June 7, 2003
How Should Christian Aid Be Given in Muslim
"What is the role of Christian missionaries in Muslim nations?" asked
Melissa Rogers, Director of a Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in
Washington this week. Some Christian groups, such as Catholic Relief and
World Vision, simply offer humanitarian help. Others, such as Samaritan's
Purse run by Franklin Graham, provide help as an avenue to share their
"Which is the more appropriate strategy? How do Muslims perceive Christian
missionaries?" she asked.
Bruce Wilkinson, who oversees $400 million of World Vision's aid to
suffering people around the world, and worked abroad for 17 years, mostly in
Muslim countries, replied, "The controversy is not an issue for Iraqis.
Suffering people welcome aid from all sources, if delivered in a dignified
He says Muslims and Christians who "share a belief in God and an opposition
to those secularizing society." Wilkinson described a remarkable consensus
of Christians and Muslims who agree that, "Charity is a God-centered work.
Those who give feel a solidarity with the poor. Charity is a religious
obligation and is a witness of the faith of a believer, obeying God."
Dr. Abdulaziz Sachedina, a professor of religious studies at the University
of Virginia, is a Muslim who attended missionary schools in Tanzania. From
that perspective, he said "Christian missionaries are unfortunately
connected with colonial powers." Iraq is the latest example, in which U.S.
occupation preceded any giving by Christians. "We need the humanitarian aid,
and are very appreciative of Christian churches' giving which is based on
loving their neighbor as themselves. But there is a suspicion of what is
behind the humanitarian aid.
"We are aware of what evangelical leaders are saying about the Qur'an, and
their hatred of Islam, is perceived, like the occupation of Iraq, as being
anti-Muslim. The U.S. is seen as a Christian power. There is a suspicion the
missionaries are enemies of Islam because they are seen insulting the
prophet, and as trying to win souls over."
By contrast, Kathleen Moynihan of Catholic Relief, who was in Baghdad on
Monday, said the Catholic position was "Deed, not creed. We do not
proselytize. The dramatic challenge we face is when there is a lack of
water, a lack of food, a lack of understanding."
She gently noted that contrary to Sachedina's assertion that Christian help
follows government colonialization, that Catholic Relief has been working in
Iraq for five years.
Fiinally, Dr. Michaal Lawrence, a Baptist pastor, argued that "The fears of
missionaries, the charge of coercion, of not respecting other people's
religious sensibilities is unfounded. The very nature of conversion is that
it happens in the interior of the man or woman. We have good news, but it is
up to the individual to decide what to do with it. Neither secular
government nor religious authority can buy the conscience of a man or a
woman." He hoped the U.S. government would champion religious liberty in
That prompted Sachedina to assert that Iraq "has a long tradition of
pluralism, which allowed different brands of Christianity to thrive." He
resisted the idea that government should "support any specific religious
Lawrence countered that while the Chaldean Church has a 2,000 year history,
"if a Muslim sets foot in one of their churches, he takes his life into his
hands. He does not have the freedom to convert to Christianity."
Interestingly, Sachedina was critical of Muslim treatment of women, which he
said was not based on the Qur'an, but on a "male dominated culture that does
not see women as partners."
I asked the speakers what their reaction was to Franklin Graham's assertion
that Islam is a "very evil and wicked religion."
Lawrence labeled his remarks "culturally insensitive," which prevented his
achieving "his goal of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ." Wilkinson
went further, "His insensitivity was grievous. We are trying to build
relationships. These relationships demand respect."
Sachedina, who speaks 11 languages, asserted that Muslims are "extremely
sensitive about what Americans say about their religion or their prophet.
This gives Christianity a bad image, and is not the way to convert people.
It has to begin with mutual respect.
"I love Jesus. I read the New Testament for inspiration." By contrast,
"Mohammad has been ill-treated throughout Christian history. There are many
books about Jesus by Muslims." Graham's remarks "hurt me deeply. It was
shocking to put it mildly."
This is the kind of dialogue Christians and Muslims need to have with one