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‘A Common Word’ in the News

Have Muslim-Christian Relations Improved Since 9/11?

Rick Love is president of Peace Catalyst International and consultant for Christian-Muslim relations with the Vineyard USA.

Terrorist attacks. Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Guantanamo Bay. Abu Ghraib. Violent Muslim responses to Terry Jones’s Qur’an burning. Islamophobic responses to building mosques in the United States.

Have Muslim-Christian relations improved since 9/11? Most people would say, “No!” I disagree. Muslim-Christian relations have improved.

Yes, there is progress, but many can’t see it because they confuse Christianity with the West. Relationships between Muslims and the West haven’t improved since 9/11. But that isn’t the question.

Yes, there is progress, but many can’t see it because of the media. Journalists select events, promote images, and emphasize perspectives that shape perception. Sometimes they get it right. Often they don’t. And the undiscerning miss what God is doing.

Yes, there is progress, but there is also bad news. There have been violent attacks on minority Christians in Muslim countries like Indonesia, Pakistan, Iraq, Egypt, and Nigeria. Churches have been destroyed and Christians killed. Muslims in America have freedom of religion, but they face increasing hostility from fearful populations.

But overall, things are improving.

At the National Prayer Breakfast in 2005, King Abdullah II of Jordan forcefully spoke out against terrorism. The media complain that Muslims don’t speak out against terrorism. Abdullah did, loud and clear. Other Muslim countries are building bridges. Qatar hosts the annual Doha Interfaith Conference. King Abdullah al-Saud of Saudi Arabia promotes interfaith dialogue and religious tolerance, which was unheard of prior to 9/11. This same dynamic is happening in the U.S. among Muslim organizations and local mosques.

The World Evangelical Alliance, representing over 600 million evangelicals, recently birthed a peace and reconciliation initiative with a strong emphasis on Christian-Muslim relations.

During a 2009 conference in Kenya, 50 evangelical leaders from around the world wrestled with alienation between Muslims and Christians. The Grace and Truth Project started. Nine biblical guidelines for Christlike relations emerged, changing the way Christians relate to Muslims.

The International Guild of Visual Peacemakers builds bridges of peace through breathtaking photography and stirring video clips. The Institute for Global Engagement focuses on building mutual respect, reconciliation, and religious freedom. They host numerous conferences aimed at enhancing Christian-Muslim relations. Peace Catalyst International is another influential initiative making a difference by getting mosques and churches together around meals and shared concerns.

The Yale Reconciliation Program may be one of the most promising academic and global initiatives. The program hosted the Common Word dialogue between 75 prominent international Muslim leaders and 75 prominent international Christian leaders in 2008. In June 2011, the program convened a gathering of 30 influential leaders for “Building Hope: Muslims, Christians and Jews Seeking the Common Good.” The good will fostered at the Common Word is trickling down to thousands of churches and mosques around the world.

In spite of many chronic problems, Christians and Muslims have been making concerted efforts to get along since September 11.

No

Carl Moeller is president of Open Doors USA, a group that works with persecuted Christians worldwide.

Using the global persecution of Christians as a measure of well-being in the post-9/11 world, Muslim-Christian relations have markedly worsened.

For example, 8 of the top 10 countries on the 2011 Open Doors World Watch List of the worst persecutors of Christians have Islamic governments. Ten years ago, Pakistani Christians could hold meetings and rallies openly in cities without much risk. Not anymore. While we see efforts in the United States to overcome fear of Muslims, the stark reality is that many Americans are more afraid of them than they were a decade ago. This produces distrust and deteriorates relationships.

What I find most unsettling is the general current response of some American Christians to Muslims. Our hearts should break that 1.5 billion Muslims are entrapped in a false ideology. They need Jesus. But many U.S. evangelicals who were sympathetic to mission outreaches to Muslims 10 years ago are today reacting with fear and anger. Many have gone down a path of returning hatred for hatred.

If we Christians choose to hate, we are not much better than the extremists. Jesus tells us that the world will hate us. We shouldn’t expect anything different. But Jesus came to love the world, including Muslims, some of whom hate us. If we continue in hatred, we sink to the level of those who are committed to our destruction. More tragic, we squander our ability to provide hope to the world. Muslims are in spiritual prison camps. We must give them an opportunity to hear the Good News and offer a way out to those imprisoned by deceptive beliefs.

Jesus’ teaching is clear. We must love our enemies. We are able to stand accepted in God’s presence not because we are lovable, but because when we were still enemies of Christ, he loved us and died for us. If we fight hatred with hatred, we are no better than the world.

We can shun this path by recognizing that Muslims themselves are not our enemies. Islam is the spiritual enemy we face, but Muslims themselves are loved by Jesus as much as we are.

In my book The Privilege of Persecution, I note how persecuted Christians are often more willing to love and forgive than Western Christians watching from the sidelines. As those who follow the example of our Lord Jesus, it is our calling to bless those who persecute us.

Yes — In Our Church

Jason Micheli is a pastor at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Alexandria, Virginia.

September 11, 2001, is stamped on our generation’s collective memory in the same way President Kennedy’s assassination was for my parents’ generation. Everyone remembers where they were when they heard the news.

I was in the dining hall of my seminary, watching with others on a muted television screen. With no volume, none of us were quite sure if what we were seeing was real.

Now 10 years removed, in many ways it seems like we never made it to September 12. The vagaries of two long wars, the number of military casualties and civilian dead, the long deployments suffered by military families, the suspicion provoked in airport security lines, and partisan rancor have all worked to do their best to keep our calendars locked on September 11, 2001.

This is the landscape the church has occupied for the past decade. At times the church has succeeded only in mirroring the fear and fractures of the culture; at other times, it has proved to be a faithful irritant to the dominant mood.

Over this past year, our congregation has welcomed the members of a neighborhood mosque to observe their Friday Jummah prayers in our building while their own building has undergone renovations. What began as the sharing of space has led to Muslim-Christian small groups, faith-sharing forums, much conversation, and not a little controversy.

Our congregation welcomed our needy neighbors without a second thought. Our hospitality was not remarkable in our congregation or community until the media made it so.

Then, my sermon explaining our hospitality was posted on Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog, where it was soon picked up (and misquoted) by several other outlets. The media noise built to the point where our hospitality was featured on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. We received hate mail and death threats from Christians around the country.

The struggle to adapt was painful but was accompanied by new life. There is the U.S. soldier who had lost both his legs in Iraq but who, in a roomful of Christians and Muslims at our church, testified that the miracle he’s experienced isn’t that he survived but that he did so “with no hate in his heart for his enemy.” There is the 20-something Muslim woman who told Christian women that, until eating desserts and making chit-chat with them, she’d been afraid her whole life of Christians. There is the funeral I did this winter for a church family. The caretaker who had nursed the deceased in the long months before she died is a Muslim woman. The reading they chose for the funeral? The Book of Ruth, the story of a presumed enemy nursing one of God’s chosen and, through that friendship, finding her way into the story of salvation.

These individual encounters might not seem like much. But this kind of reconciliation has eternal value and God’s blessing.

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