Evangelicals and Islam

A group of American Christians, most of them evangelicals, met for four days last weekend with a distinguished group of … Continued

A group of American Christians, most of them evangelicals, met for four days last weekend with a distinguished group of Moroccans at Eastern Mennonite University, concluding with a public session Monday at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center. To an outsider, the point of the conclave was not easy to fathom. It opened with a showing of a terrifying film about nuclear threats: Countdown to Zero, and concluded with heartfelt statements of shared interests and values. What was it all about? Why did Morocco’s busy ambassador to the United States and other distinguished Moroccans devote so much time to the discussion?

Richard Cizik, founder of a new movement of evangelicals he describes as “young in spirit” (the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good) gave some clues as he spoke Monday. Quoting from a post-2010 election survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, he noted that while 45 percent of Americans said they thought the values of Islam are at odds with American values, the figure was much higher (57 percent) for white evangelicals who responded to the survey. This was the highest recorded percentage among the defined groups (Catholics followed with 53 percent). We must, Cizik said, combat the lurking and dangerous idea that Islam is the new “evil empire”.

So last weekend’s event, which builds on a several-year partnership with the Moroccan government, was intended to eliminate some of the mistaken ideas, to build a sense of a shared common interest, and to dig into some topics that generate both misunderstandings and genuine disagreement.

Nuclear threats, the perils of climate change and terrorism were discussed as common, shared interests, and it did not prove difficult to establish the sense that there is indeed a shared concern. More significantly, discussion of the reasons why citizens care about these global threats underscored a message that the very different participants shared common values.

The focus on Morocco brought up the often forgotten fact that Morocco was the first foreign country to recognize the fledgling United States, in 1777. Morocco takes special pride in its history of multi-faith harmony (with a centuries-old Jewish population) and its contemporary focus on tolerance and moderation. And Morocco has benn gaining Christian residents as it becomes a “Florida for Europe,” where many retire to enjoy the sun and culture.

One area of disagreement arose when the group delved into what they meant by religious freedom. For the evangelical group, freedom of religion means freedom not only to practice one’s faith without interference from the government but also to share that faith freely with others, including inviting others to convert to Christianity. The Moroccans described their understanding of the term as a genuine freedom to practice one’s beliefs but not to proselytize, which is against the law in Morocco. That is the law of the land, they stressed, made by Moroccans and not to be changed by outside fiat. The participants agreed to disagree, respectfully, and to keep the conversation going.

What seemed to rile the Moroccan participants most was their sense that some proselytizing comes under false pretenses. They said people come to Morocco claiming that they are opening a business or studying when their real goal is to convert Moroccans to Christianity. This, they said, destabilizes the society, and explains why a few Christians have been asked to leave or are not permitted to reenter Morocco. They noted that similar restrictions apply to other faith groups, including Muslims. The idea of restrictions on a free expression of faith likewise riled some of the evangelical participants.

Richard Cizik laid out three scenarios of how religion and state are related. The first is a “sacred public square,” the historical model where church and state are formally linked and religion shapes public policy. There are many Americans, he noted, who hold such a view, holding that America is a Christian nation with a “moral majority” shaped by Christian values. A second view is the “naked public square,” where religion is excluded from public policy and institutions and “legal secularism” prevails. The third he terms a “civil public square” where there is deep and genuine respect for all faiths (and for those who profess no faith), and no one faith is privileged. This third “civil” option is what he sees as best suited both to allow for real freedom of religion and to address the malaise that colors American views of religion and especially Islam.

Working together to define better what the civil public square might mean, whether in Morocco or Egypt or the United States, and exploring the different forms it can take is an exercise that is well worthwhile. The question of why the busy Moroccan ambassador chose to participate in the effort is answered by appreciating the depth of feeling among both the evangelicals and the Moroccans about different interpretations of what it means, and a sense of a shared interest in working through those differences.

Katherine Marshall is a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, a Visiting Professor, and Executive Director of the World Faiths Development Dialogue.

By Katherine Marshall | 
February 15, 2011; 2:50 PM ET

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  • abrahamhab1

    Muslims feel free to proselytize their religion by any and all means yet denies that freedom to other faiths. It expels Christian missionaries and kills its own “apostates”. This is called protectionism and indicates a fear of open competition. In the marketplace of religions, just like in the marketplace ideas or products the marketplace should decide which shall sell and which shall not. Muslims openly admit that critical thinking has no place in ”matters of faith” i.e. religion. This runs counter to the philosophical trend that had helped evolve our planet and its inhabitants.

  • areyousaying

    How interesting, in their eternal search for new scapegoats now that St. Ronald defeated the Communists single handedly, Huckabees demonize all Muslims as their enemies while suckling their teats for America’s oil addiction and, at the same time, obstructing alternative energy at every turn for fear of the consequences on BP’s profits.Intolerant, hateful white-supremacist evangelicals combined with an old racist Southern political party owned by big oil and big business – Palin’s evil brew.

  • StewartIII

    NewsBusters: ‘On Faith’ Blog Hypes Recent Symposium of Liberal-leaning Evangelicals and Moroccan Muslims

  • WmarkW

    Evangelicals are the people who write those stupid books in the tradition of the The Late Great Planet Earth, advocating that biblical prophesy suggests we’re living in the End Times (and that this IS WOULD BE A GOOD THING), so we should encourage nuclear war in the Middle East to speed up the process.The less we listen to their opinions on Islam, the better.

  • YEAL9

    The Five Steps To Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic Myths:( –The Steps take less than two minutes to finish- simply amazing, two minutes to bring peace and rationality to over one billion lost souls- Priceless!!!)Are you ready? Using “The 77 Branches of Islamic “faith” a collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the essential virtues that reflect true “faith” (iman) through related Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings.” i.e. a nice summary of the Koran and Islamic beliefs.”1. Belief in Allah”aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah, Mother Nature, etc. should be added to your cleansing neurons.”2. To believe that everything other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and subsequently they came into existence.””3. To believe in the existence of angels.””4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore.”Another major item to delete. There are no books written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as there are no angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc. are simply books written by humans for humans.Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the uneducated masses in line. Today we call them fortune tellers.”5. To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him)alone.”Mohammed spent thirty days “fasting” (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a “pretty wingy thingy”. Common sense demands a neuron deletion of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic vi-olence i.e. turning Mohammed’s “fast, hunger-driven” hallu-cinations into horrible reality for unbelievers.Walk these Five Steps and we guarantee a complete recovery from your Islamic ways!!!!Unfortunately, there are not many Muslim commentators/readers on this blog so the “two-minute” cure is not getting to those who need it. If you have a Muslim friend, send him a copy and help save the world.

  • YEAL9

    Saving Christians from the Big Resurrection Con Game:From that famous passage: In 1 Corinthians 15 St. Paul reasoned, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”Even now Catholic/Christian professors of theology are questioning the bodily resurrection of the simple, preacher man aka Jesus.From a major Catholic university’s theology grad school white-board notes:”Heaven is a Spirit state or spiritual reality of union with God in love, without earthly – earth bound distractions.Most believe that it to mean that the personal spiritual self that survives death is in continuity with the self we were while living on earth as an embodied person.Again, the physical Resurrection (meaning a resuscitated corpse returning to life), Ascension (of Jesus’ crucified corpse), and Assumption (Mary’s corpse) into heaven did not take place. The Ascension symbolizes the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry and the beginning of the Church. Only Luke’s Gospel records it. The Assumption ties Jesus’ mission to Pentecost and missionary activity of Jesus’ followers The Assumption has multiple layers of symbolism, some are related to Mary’s special role as “Christ bearer” (theotokos). It does not seem fitting that Mary, the body of Jesus’ Virgin-Mother (another biblically based symbol found in Luke 1) would be derived by worms upon her death. Mary’s assumption also shows God’s positive regard, not only for Christ’s male body, but also for female bodies.” “”In three controversial Wednesday Audiences, Pope John Paul II pointed out that the essential characteristic of heaven, hell or purgatory is that they are states of being of a spirit (angel/demon) or human soul, rather than places, as commonly perceived and represented in human language. This language of place is, according to the Pope, inadequate to describe the realities involved, since it is tied to the temporal order in which this world and we exist. In this he is applying the philosophical categories used by the Church in her theology and saying what St. Thomas Aquinas said long before him.”Of course, we all know that angels are really mythical “pretty wingie talking thingies”. So where are the bones? As per Professor Crossan’s analyses in his many books, the body of Jesus would have ended up in the mass graves of the crucified, eaten by wild dogs, with lime in a shallow grave, or under a pile of stones.