Conservative Christians Urge Dialogue With Muslims
Christians regard Muslims?
religious leaders have been "stuck on two extremes of over
simplification," said Diane Knippers, President of the Institute on
Religion and Democracy (IRD) in Washington. "The religious left has
been idealistic and optimistic that Islam is a religion of peace by people
who are like us. The religious right has been making sweeping, gratuitous
United Methodist Bishop Melvin Talbert, flew to Baghdad with the National
Council of Churches before the war, where he declared "Religious tolerance
was valued in Iraq." After the war, on Larry King, Talbert said Christians
should be tolerant of Muslim leaders "and not assume that our way is the
contrast, Jerry Falwell said on "60 Minutes," "I think Mohammed was a
terrorist." His words made headlines around the world, sparking a riot that
left nine dead in India, and gave a militant Muslim party the ammunition it
needed to move from five to 50 seats in the Pakistani Parliament. Franklin
Graham, son of Billy Graham, described Islam as a "very evil and wicked
Last week the
National Association of Evangelicals and IRD co-sponsored a conference to
carve out a new middle ground. It was a welcome fresh breeze. Without
mentioning anyone by name, they denounced as "dangerous" and "unhelpful"
the militant anti-Muslim rhetoric of prominent evangelical leaders.
president of World Relief, NAE's relief and development agency, said that
instead of denouncing Islam as evil, there is a need "to pull down
barriers...We must copy our Lord and wash feet." He felt harsh Christian
rhetoric "obviously put lives and livelihoods of people overseas at risk."
IRD Vice President
Alan Wisdom outlined a wiser approach, encouraging Christians to "seek to
understand Islam and Muslim peoples" because most U.S. churchgoers "know
little about Islam. If our churches are to show Christ's love effectively to
our Muslim neighbors, we must clear away misconceptions and gain accurate
insights into Muslim beliefs and practices."
On behalf of IRD and
NAE he issued a set of "Guidelines for Christian-Muslim Dialogue" (www.ird-renew.org)
with thoughtful suggestions:
1. "Open ourselves to talk with all varieties and stations of Muslims."
2. "Give testimony
to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, because it is our duty to do so. Ultimately,
Christ himself is the greatest blessing that we could offer to our Muslim
interlocutors," noting that Saint Paul and Saint Luke dialogued with
unbelievers, which at times involved "arguing, explaining, proving,
proclaiming and persuading," as in Acts 17:1-4.
3. "Make sure that
Christians entering into dialogue with Muslims have a firm grasp of an
orthodox faith in the mainstream of the Christian tradition."
4. To lessen the
sense of a North-South clash of civilizations, involve Christians "from an
African or Asian Christian perspective particularly Christians who have
lived as a minority group within a predominantly Muslim nations."
5. "Affirm some
points of theology and morality that Islam and Christianity have in common."
Timothy George, in his thoughtful book, "Is the Father of Jesus the God of
Muhammad?" notes that both faiths "affirm many important truths about this
great God his oneness, eternity, power, majesty. As the Quran puts it, God
is `the Living, The Everlasting, the
All-High, the All-Glorious.'" On the other hand, he notes that "Muslim
theology rejects the fatherhood of God, the deity of Jesus Christ, and the
personhood the Holy Spirit - each of which is an essential component of the
Christian understanding of God."
6. "Address the deep differences between Islam and Christianity," by
speaking frankly about Jesus Christ who willingly died on the cross as an
atonement for human sin. However, Christians are "wiser and more winsome
when they place their emphasis on positive affirmations of their own
Christian faith," rather than making "negative judgements about Islamic
Vice President Richard Cizik recounted participating in a dialogue with
Muslims in Doha, Qatar in April: "Muslims were able to hear from an
evangelical our concerns for the victims of the war in Iraq, our
compassionate care for victims of war, our reason for supporting the Bush
The Guidelines also warn against common worship with Muslims which would
involve unacceptable compromises by either faith. Nor should Christians
demand apologies from Muslims for the terrorist acts of some. However,
Christians should make a case for their right to attend churches in Islamic
countries, as American Muslims have a right to build mosques here.
It is imperative for
Christians to reach out to Muslims. I suggest beginning with Timothy