The Preacher and the Muslim LeadersTHE PREACHER AND THE MUSLIM LEADERS
Last week a noted television preacher came to Chicago for an interfaith meeting with several African-American Muslim leaders. I have chosen not to mention his name because I don’t wish to make this a personal issue and also because I am quoting from a Chicago Tribune article and it is always possible that he was somehow misquoted. After the terrorist attacks on September 11, the preacher felt it would be good to have “evenings of hope” where he and the Muslim leaders could meet in a public forum to discuss issues of mutual concern. And if that were all that happened, I would have no objection and would not be writing this column. But along the way the preacher got into theology, which isn’t surprising since you could hardly get Christians and Muslims together without eventually talking about our genuine theological differences. We believe in the Trinity; Muslims don’t. We believe Jesus is God’s one-and-only Son and the only way of salvation for all people everywhere; Muslims don’t. Muslims revere Mohammed as “God’s prophet;” we don’t. Muslims regard Mecca as a holy city; we don’t. There is nothing to be gained by downplaying the differences or pretending they don’t matter. The preacher said that he had once believed in proselytizing, that is, trying to convince Muslims to become Christians. Now he realizes that asking people to change their religion is “utterly ridiculous.” If he truly means that we are not to preach the gospel and call people to become followers of Christ, then he has denied the Great Commission. And if he means that Christianity and Islam are truly equal in the sight of God, then he has denied the Christian faith itself. Later the preacher said that when he met a Muslim leader in Damascus, they did not discuss their differences: “We did not discuss theological details that might distract us from hearing the voice of a crying child.” They also didn’t talk about whether non-Christians are going to hell. “In a world with crying children we have no time.” And he added these chilling words. “The purpose of religion is not to say, ‘I have all the answers, and my job is to convert you.’ That road leads to the Twin Towers.” He added that after September 11, our emphasis should not be on proselytizing but on “trying to help everybody who had hurts and hopes.” I can offer various excuses about why this man spoke as he did. I am sure he wanted to sound compassionate and caring. Perhaps he didn’t want to stir up controversy and perhaps he wanted to win friends so he can talk about Christ later. But those are flimsy reasons for denying the heart of our faith. If we no longer believe that Muslims need Jesus, we have robbed them of the only hope that leads to eternal life. And that’s a tragedy worse than any terrorist attack.