Christian-Muslim

From the Editors

Loving our neighbors is usually easier in the abstract. The members of Heartsong Church, just outside of Memphis, Tennessee, made that love very real last year in a concrete act of welcome. An Islamic faith community was moving in nearby, and their new center wasn’t going to be ready in time for Ramadan. So the members of Heartsong, in a simple act of Christian hospitality, invited their neighbors to use the church building during the Muslim holy month.

Unfortunately, such loving actions between Christians and Muslims seem to be the exception these days. In nearby Rutherford County, just southeast of Nashville, residents -- most of them Christian -- blocked a mosque planned by the Islamic community. "Why do they hate us?" a child asked the local imam, Ossama Bahloul, according to a reporter. "I said it's just a misunderstanding, miscommunication," Bahloul said. "I told him to love the people because one day they can love you, too."

When we asked Bob Smietana, an award-winning religion writer for The Tennessean, to visit Heartsong Church this summer and write about their interfaith bridge-building, Smietana responded, "A happy Muslim-Christian story? I'm in."

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Across the Great Divide

I can remember it like yesterday. It was three weeks before my wedding day -- Sept. 10, 2001. The next morning my brother woke me up just before the first tower crumbled.

Since 9/11, I've traveled the world many times over. Some have called me a "freelance missionary," since in any given year I can end up visiting just about any country on the planet. Out of all the places that I've been and all the people I've met along the way, one experience stands out that continues to shape my attitude toward how Christians should (and shouldn't) engage Muslims today.

It was shortly after I moved back to the U.S. from Senegal. A filmmaker named Stephen Marshall was looking for a zealous Christian missionary to participate in a feature-length documentary film about the role that religion plays in the post-9/11 clash between Christianity and Islam. I was the zealous Christian missionary.

Marshall came to my home, interviewed me along with my family, and asked us about how our faith affects our views on capitalism, democracy, Iraq, Afghanistan, the so-called war on terror, and everything else under the sun. A few weeks after the interview, I accompanied Marshall to Pakistan to demonstrate to him the plight of Christian minorities living in predominately Muslim countries. I was glad I got that point across. I thought my work was done.

Then Marshall told me about Khalid.

Khalid is an Irishman who converted to Islam in a Saudi Arabian prison. Khalid believes that democracy is human-made law, and that the hope of the world lies in Islamic sharia law. He also believes that 9/11 was "defensive jihad," a just retribution for the presence of U.S. troops in Muslim lands, U.S. support of Israel, the sanctions in Iraq that (according to UNICEF) killed 500,000 children, and U.S. support for dictators throughout the Muslim world.

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Beyond Barrier, Bubble, or Bomb

My friend April grew up a church girl. She attended Bible camp and Sunday school, sang Christian songs, and went on mission trips. When she was a senior at Carleton College in Minnesota, she was elected the leader of her campus Christian group.

That year, a mosque in the Twin Cities suffered an arson attack, and the imam sent out an appeal to religious leaders across the state to stand with his community against religious discrimination. April, who had grown close to Muslims during mission trips to Russia, thought this was exactly the right thing to do. She presented her plan at the next meeting of the Christian group and was surprised when it was greeted with stony silence. Finally, someone spoke: “Why are you asking us to support devil worship?” April looked around the room and saw the other members of the group nodding.

April had a big problem. Her conscience was telling her to be a witness against a hate crime; her Christian group was telling her to applaud it. April made her choice: She went to the rally in support of the mosque. The Christian group made its choice: Members voted to remove April as president.

If only this were a simple morality tale, the story of a heroic individual standing up against peer pressure. But April didn’t feel like a hero; she felt abandoned. A large part of her identity was being a Christian. The community she felt closest to her whole life was the church. And now she felt shoved out by that community and confused by that tradition. Furthermore, the members of the Christian group were not just vocal about their position, they were educated about it. They cited prominent Christian leaders on why the destruction of a mosque was a good thing (for example, it may lead some of the Muslims to consider attending a local church instead). So while the students who went to the rally in support of the mosque were labeled compassionate, the ones who applauded the arson were called “Christian.”

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Sojourners Magazine January 2010
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Loving our Neighbors

Should Christians dialogue with Muslims? Some prominent conservative Christians approach such a question with deep suspicion, if not downright opposition. For example, Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has criticized evangelicals who signed a Christian letter to Muslims last fall, saying their participation reflected “naiveté that borders on dishonesty.” A Web site produced by James Dobson’s Focus on the Family approvingly quotes a Muslim convert to Christianity who wrote that the letter’s signatories “actually are betraying the Christian faith.”

What, exactly, has raised such ire from the right?

It all started last October, when 138 Muslim scholars and clerics released a statement titled “A Common Word Between Us and You,” which declared that “the future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians,” the basis of which can be found in “the very foundational principles of both faiths: love of the One God, and love of the neighbor.”

More than 300 Christians of all stripes signed a response drafted at Yale Divinity School’s Center for Faith and Culture, saying they were “deeply encouraged and challenged” by the Muslim initiative, and moved to “extend our own Christian hand in return, so that ... we may live in peace and justice as we seek to love God and our neighbors.”

That’s what really started to raise issues for some right-wing Christians. The Yale response, titled “Loving God and Neighbor Together,” included an acknowledgement that many Christians have been guilty of “sinning against our Muslim neighbors,” including actions “in the past (e.g. in the Crusades) and in the present (e.g. in excesses of the ‘war on terror’).” Mohler, of the Southern Baptist seminary, took umbrage at this apology and specifically defended the Crusades, saying, “Are these people suggesting that they wish the military conflict with Islam had ended differently—that Islam had conquered Europe?”

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Sojourners Magazine April 2008
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