Interfaith Apathy

I am completely uninterested in interfaith dialog. Does that make me a bad person?

This Ground Zero Mosque business has allowed me to finally face the issue personally and honestly, and I’ve decided that I don’t care. Aside from the fact that I’ve grown weary of the constant whining from the potential mosque’s imam and other supporters (no one can stop you; if you want to build it… build it), I still don’t have a clear idea of why a Christian should support it. The intent of building this mosque, or any other, is to draw worship to someone other than God. How are we honoring him by suggesting that the building of a mosque is a good thing? From a Christian perspective, it isn’t.

Unfortunately, our generation has been brought up the idea that “tolerance” is an unqualified good thing, that we are unable to see the folly in the concept. Several years ago I was serving as student minister at a Lutheran church. One day I came in to the office while our children’s minister and my intern were having a conversation. When I walked by one asked, “Where in the Bible does it say to respect other religions?”

You may have noticed that my last name is not Piper, Carson, or Packer, but I felt pretty confident when I answered, “It’s not there.” God is clear about idolatry, and how we are to “respect” foreign gods. So why would a Christian leader try to form “conversations” with leaders from other religions, with tolerance or mutual respect as a goal? Christians learning to respect and love Muslims is helpful and productive, and it glorifies God as we love others. Christian leaders trying to emphasize the similarities between Christianity and other religions is unhelpful and counterproductive when we consider our mission: to go and make disciples.

I’ve come to realize that the only reason I was ever open to the suggestion of such things was so that I would be considered “thoughtful.” We all know that you can’t be thoughtful if you’re willing to say (out loud and in public) that any religion that doesn’t hold to the Gospel is evil. Surely our Christian obligations preclude us from supporting any religious message that doesn’t support the Gospel.

There are far too many Christians – evangelical Christians – who believe sentiments like “live and let live” are biblical with regard to other religions. I think too many of us are enamored with being considered “thoughtful.” I think too few of us are willing to associate Ba’al and “foreign gods” with the religions of our time.

I still want you to think I’m thoughtful, but I’m working on it. I’ll leave you with the words of Al Mohler:

Thus, evangelical Christians may respect the sincerity with which Muslims hold their beliefs, but we cannot respect the beliefs themselves.  We can respect Muslim people for their contributions to human welfare, scholarship, and culture.  We can respect the brilliance of Muslim scholarship in the medieval era and the wonders of Islamic art and architecture.  But we cannot respect a belief system that denies the truth of the gospel, insists that Jesus was not God’s Son, and takes millions of souls captive.

This does not make for good diplomacy, but we are called to witness, not public relations.  We must aim to be gracious and winsome in our witness to Christ, but the bottom line is that the gospel will necessarily come into open conflict with its rivals.

About Charles Jones
  • http://www.bigmama247.com Alise

    I think tolerance and interfaith cooperation is important because PEOPLE are important. If I don’t understand the person, how can I effectively communicate God’s love for them? As a “little Christ” I think I’m obligated to form relationships with others before introducing them to that relationship.

  • Adena

    “Christians learning to respect and love Muslims is helpful and productive, and it glorifies God as we love others”

    Any furthering of any other kingdom is not good news for a Christian, regardless of where it is being furthered. I think Charles did a good job of expressing that we are, in fact, called to love, but we were also called to further the Christian kingdom.

  • http://spoonfulofhahne.com Seth T. Hahne

    Charles, I’m not sure who this article is directed at. If at Sunday Christians or those who hold to more liberal strains of Christianity, then fine. But if you hope to direct your considerations at conservative believers who don’t see the big deal with their being a Muslim worship center two-to-six blocks from Ground Zero, then you’re arguing all the wrong points.

    With such people, tolerance isn’t generally the issue. The inadequacy of Islam as a means of proper interaction with God is not the issue either. Emphasizing the similarities between faiths isn’t on the table either. Being viewed as “thoughtful” can keep doors of communication open, doors through which the gospel may be proclaimed to willing listeners. But even that isn’t what I hear most conservatives talking about when it comes to repudiating the strange movement to oppose the building of this not-Christian structure. Nothing you’ve said resonates with me because none of it has anything to do with why I think opposition to the Muslim site is unhelpful (at best) and dangerous (at worst).

    Let’s begin with the underlying presumption that those argue for allowing the building to continue apace are supporters of a mosque. Please allow me to disabuse you of that direction of thought, because it’s just not accurate. Or at least not an accurate representation of my perspective, or (I think I can say) Alan’s perspective, or the perspective of any of the people I’ve spoken to on the matter.

    Here’s my perspective (and this is only my perspective, there are a host of other ones that don’t fall into the sillinesses you argue against) on the matter and why I think it important to take a dim view the ongoing protest. My argument is twofold: a pragmatic argument and an ethical one.

    First the pragmatic.

    Christians opposing a Muslim community/worship center several blocks from “Ground Zero” would do well to consider that many non-Christians find the Evangelical views of homosexuality more problematic than the very non-terroristic (and therefore unrelated to the WTC attack) views of moderate Islam. Such Christians should take care that their words do not forge a precedent for when the shoe is on the other foot (as many Evangelicals predict it soon will be).

    For America to function in the way that it is meant to, equal protection is demanded. For those we like, for those we don’t. For ideals that are popular, for ideals that aren’t. When we seek to prohibit the religious activities of others simply because their ideals or existence hurts our feelings, we make a target of ourselves when our ideals or existence hurts the feelings of others (and they do!).

    We remember the persecution of plausible communists under McCarthy with embarrassment. Because a) it was unnecessary, b) it was unwise, and c) it was ironically un-American. Without relying too handily on the cliches about forgetfulness and the doom of repetition, I’d urge us all to remember another couple cliches, that shoes do change feet and, as we have erected things to stand, the other shoe will eventually drop.

    Christians’ evisceration of the American purpose today may mean terrible things for our future.

    Second the ethical.

    Since opposition to the Islamic center focuses on what amounts to an untruth—that American Muslims bear responsibility for the WTC attack in 2001—and Christians serve a God of truth and are to have lives marked by truthfulness, it is important for us to oppose attempts to characterize American Muslims and American Islam as the American enemy.

    Participating in the dismantling of lies is a good thing because it demonstrates our love of truth. Refusing to participate in the proliferation of untruths regarding Project 51 demonstrates a) that truth is important to us and b) that we are not liars.

    Alan actually treated this more explicitly in his article on the matter, I believe.

    Now obviously, I am not a fan of Islam anymore than I am a fan of Mormonism, Hinduism, or atheism. Ideologically, I am not allowed to be. For that reason, I’m not a fan of the building of a mosque. At Ground Zero or in an abandoned cornfield in Nebraska. These are dedications to other gods. But we do not live in a Christian theocratic state. We live in our Kingdom as sojourners in the boundaries of another kingdom. If we look at the biblical record of what that looks like in regard to this kind of question, we never see examples outside the pericope of national Israel (c. 1500–584 BC) in which believers are called to oppose the institutions of the nations around them. And this is not a matter of respect, but simply the way of living as sojourners, in lands that are not our own. Abraham didn’t tear down altars to Marduk (or seek to prevent their establishment). And neither did Paul.

  • Alan Noble

    Charles,

    I’m not sure that I agree with the connection you make between interfaith dialogue and the Ground Zero “mosque”, however I do know that that “coexist” symbol is really annoying. And I certainly believe that those of us who are opposed to the criticisms of this mosque should be careful not to support Islam in the process.

  • Ben

    I don’t want to pile on too much, but I think this whole issue is a simple question of balance. Why is it unbalanced to fully participate in the Coexist movement? And why is it unbalanced to burn the Qu’ran?

    I think the impulse on the left of this issue is to respect the dignity of other humans made in God’s image, and to communicate that Christians truly gain ground in hearts and minds through love and grace rather than forceful political action or demands on others that we would not accept ourselves. That’s a good thing, and it IS something all Christians can support. That’s one key reason why I strongly against the “Christian” movement to stop the mosque near ground zero.

    However, the impulse to affirm or accept other religions as valid paths to Truth is a flat-out denial of the gospel and cannot be accepted by those who acknowledge Christ as the way, the truth, and the life.

    Meanwhile, the impulse on the right to communicate disagreement with other religions as being true is also correct. Scripture is exclusive and uncompromising in its claims and we should not try to gentle it or alter its message for our popularity.

    But that said, the apostles and church fathers didn’t join the Zealots for a reason. The kingdom of Christ claims exclusivity, but it is not won through force and disparagement and denial of freedoms.

    I think this debate is a hot one because the left and right wing Christians have it wrong, and anyone in the middle needs to be very careful about what they choose from each.

  • Chase

    Ben, as someone more on the left of this, I think you’ve summed up that side of things well. I don’t have a COEXIST sticker but I don’t cringe when I see them. I think it is less about affirming that all paths are equally valid and more about agreeing not to blow each other up.

  • http://pos51.org Charles

    Seth,

    The mosque debate was merely the catalyst for my thought, and so it was the way I chose to introduce you to my inner monologue. The sentiment I’m expressing isn’t particularly about the mosque, so I’m not going to engage those arguments in this comment.

    I don’t have much of an “underlying presumption that those argue for allowing the building to continue apace are supporters of a mosque,” as I was responding to a general sentiment I’ve encountered, and these particular words from Alan’s post (I considered including this in the original post, but my handling of it felt harsh, and I didn’t mean it to be):

    But as Christians we have an obligation to be charitable and loving to our neighbors and our enemies, those we agree with politically and those we disagree with. One way we can act charitably is by supporting political and religious messages which are reasonable, honest, and loving.

    I don’t think that not opposing the mosque is equivalent to supporting it. And I expect Liberal/Emergent Christians to support such things, as I expect them to engage in the types of interfaith dialogue; it is consistent with their theologies. This is more directed at conservative Christians who, as I have in the past, engage in dialogue and support the validity of other religious movements because they are “reasonable, honest, and loving.”

    I’m not saying we should be out protesting every not-Christian house of worship. But when someone asks if we support or oppose such things as the mosque at/near/far-away-from Ground Zero, our first response should not be about tolerance and Constitutional freedom.

  • http://pos51.org Charles

    I’m down with agreeing not to blow each other up, that’s a good plan.

    Human dialogue with people from other Christian faith traditions and from other religions is a good thing. We should seek to love and understand each other, and that involves understanding and being charitable in our treatment of other people’s faiths, as their faith plays a role in their lives and in our relationships with them.

    My major problem with interfaith dialogue on an aggregate level is that, once you’ve stopped the fighting, there is no net benefit. At its best it appears to me to be a gigantic waste of time. I’m not telling you not to try it, I’m just not concerned with the success rate.

  • http://electexiles.wordpress.com/ Drew Dixon

    For the record, I read this article this morning before all the comments went down and was (this probably isn’t surprising) largely encouraged by and sympathized with what was expressed in this article. I did not perceive Charles to be making any argument against the building of the at/near/next/somewhat-close to ground zero mosque. I agree with Charles, I just don’t feel the need and in fact feel conflicted with the idea of promoting the building of any mosque–which as you say from a Christian perspective, the building of a mosque is not a good thing.

    That said. I appreciate what Alan and Seth have argued as a needed corrective to some Christians who would oppose the building of this mosque on illogical grounds–from what I read I think Charles appreciates this too. Reading these comments was one of those, “wait a minute, what are we arguing about”-type moments for me. Also for the record, most of the arguments being made against the mosque are not religious arguments being made by Christians.

    What I find helpful about what Charles has written here is that I think behind many of the invitations to “interfaith dialog” is a diluting of the faith once and for all handed down to the saints. I sense that anyway–and maybe that is just because I am a pastor, who knows–I may very well be wrong. But I have had conversations this week with folks in which I explained why we as Christians should not be actively campaigning against this mosque and then the very next day I had to explain to some secular friends that I was not saying that Islam is a good thing. These secular friends were upset that I thought Islam was a bad thing. As we have all expressed, I don’t think Islam is a good thing–I think its a false religion that leads people to hell and it would be unloving for me to treat it as if it were a good thing that serves people well.

    Certainly, we should be kind and loving toward Muslim people. We shouldn’t oppose building mosques on the grounds that some people who profess to be Muslims were involved in a terrorist attack–that is illogical at best and bigoted at worst. That said, the only kind of interfaith dialog I am interested in is learning more about Muslims I might meet so that I might get to know them better and share the gospel with them out of genuine concern and love for them.

    Ben said, “I think the impulse on the left of this issue is to respect the dignity of other humans made in God’s image.” If that is true–praise the Lord, I just get the feeling that some folks “on the left of this” have another agenda in mind such as I experienced in my conversations this week.


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