This piece was originally published at Aslan Media’s site on June 25th, 2012.
By Paul Louis Metzger and John W. Morehead
At a recent festival held annually by Dearborn’s Muslim community, it was reported that a group of Christian missionaries disrupted the event as they engaged in responses that challenged deeply valued Islamic ideals. This included holding up signs that attacked Islam’s prophet Muhammad, shouting at Muslims participating in the festival, and hoisting a pig’s head on a pole, an animal considered unclean by Muslims (See “Christian missionary group with pig’s head taunt Arab-Americans at Dearborn festival,” Niraj Warikoo, June 15, Detroit Free Press). Less tense forms of engagement also reportedly took place, such as the sharing of evangelistic literature outside the largest mosque in Michigan.
Surveys indicate that the American public has conflicted views of Islam, with 53% having a positive view, but with many believing it is more likely to foster violence than other religions. In some quarters various communities oppose the building of mosques, while others support the possibility. Moving from the American public in general to Protestant Evangelicals (the likely Christian missionary representatives at the festival), the view is more negative. The Pew Forum indicates that Evangelicals have a largely negative view of Islam with only 24% expressing a favorable one. In light of these statistics, the type of clash seen at the festival will likely continue in the future.
Is engaging others in this manner the best way to express one’s faith community’s convictions? Who’s listening? And if they are listening, isn’t the result often more turmoil and more fighting? How ironic it is that those who are concerned most about Muslim acts that disregard human life are also reportedly perpetrating demeaning acts themselves.
A better way exists wherein those of differing religious traditions can express their very real disagreements, and seek to persuade others of the truthfulness of their tradition, but do so in ways that are both civil and do not involve compromise of convictions. We work with the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy, a non-profit organization with chapters representing various religious traditions. We are involved in the Evangelical Christian chapter, but there are chapters for Sunni and Shiite Muslims, too. We are not likely to persuade those Christians who protested at the Dearborn festival to join us, but we do invite Christians and Muslims in Dearborn to join us at FRD in civil exchanges.
In times past in the Christian community it was fashionable to ask oneself, “What would Jesus do?” This is still an important question, and in the context of religious diversity we connect it to the model of engagement exemplified by Jesus. What would Jesus do if he encountered Muslims?
Although the New Testament records his forceful clashes with leaders in his own religious community, by contrast, his encounters with other religions were very different. Jesus wasn’t pig-headed. Jesus’ encounters with Gentiles and Samaritans demonstrate that he broke with the negative assumptions, attitudes, and practices of his religious community concerning those in other religions. His engagement involved an awareness of the religions and cultures of his dialogue partners, and Jesus also exhibited respect rather than denunciation. Finally, in the example of Jesus, we see dialogue that involved listening as well as evangelistic proclamation. If we Christians are to have the mind of Christ and not be pig-headed, then we must emulate the model of Jesus for the church as we engage those in other religions.
Paul Louis Metzger, Ph.D., is Director, The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins, Multnomah Biblical Seminary/Multnomah University; Charter Member, Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy. John W. Morehead is Director, Western Institute for Intercultural Studies; Director, Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy.