During the confirmation hearing of Russell Vought, the nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, a very contentious exchange took place between him and senator Sanders of Vermont.
During the hearing, senator Sanders quoted a passage from a 2016 blog written by Vought to defend Wheaton College. The passage was apparently found to be particularly objectionable:
“Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.”
Taking issue with Vought statement, Senator Sanders said “In my view, the statement made by Mr. Vought is indefensible, it is hateful, it is Islamophobic, and it is an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world,” Sanders told the committee during his introductory remarks. “This country, since its inception, has struggled, sometimes with great pain, to overcome discrimination of all forms … we must not go backwards.”
The hearing was controversial and senator Sanders was widely criticized by the media for what was perceived as a religious test to qualify a candidate for a public office.
The main issue triggered by this exchange, was the old question of “Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?” The reason this came to mind is because Vought’s blog was about the statement made by Larycia Hawkins, a professor at Wheaton at that time, who noted in a Facebook post that Christians and Muslims worshipped “the same God”.
Vought’s article in question was meant to refute Hawkins’s theological claims about the “the same God” statement. “Christians believe that Jesus is the Son of God who is fully divine (and became fully human),” Vought wrote. “If Christ is not God, he cannot be the necessary substitute on our behalf for the divine retribution that we deserve.” He believed Hawkins’s statement created “serious theological confusion” about “what it means to be in relationship with or know the one, true God.”
Many Evangelicals and others came to the support of Vought’s statement that was objectionable to senator Sanders. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention said a couple of days ago in an interview with NPR :
“This is not some arcane or obscure private opinion being held by this one individual. The language that Sen. Sanders, finds so disturbing — ‘stands condemned’ — is language right out of the New Testament.”
The Illinois Family Institute (IFI) Laurie Higgins, an anti-LGBT activist, commented:
“Islam is not merely a deficient theology. It is a false religion. It is not “Islamophobia” — of which Sanders accused Vought — or hatred that leads me to say this. It is God’s Word. Those who know what Scripture teaches and care about their friends and/or family who are Muslim should share this truth with them .”
Not merely a deficient theology but a false religion? This is not a loving statement. In fact I’ve heard statements like this made by rigid fundamental Muslims before and I opposed them. This rigidity, in my opinion is the greatest challenge facing American Evangelicals today. Their greatest challenge and threat is not Islam, but their own rigidity. The purity of faith. The statements that show orthodoxy.
Statements voiced about the “Same God Debate” are in fact hurting the Evangelicals declared objective of “leading Muslims to Christ” . In the aftermath of the Wheaton controversy, nearly two dozen evangelical experts on missions and Muslims have compiled their thoughts on how the answer given “we don’t have the same God”, affects negatively Muslim missions. They also have considered why the question itself is a bad question to begin with, and proposed better questions to ask instead .
“Valid questions, asked wrongly, can become “theological litmus tests intended to separate and divide,” wrote David Greenlee, an international research and strategy associate with Operation Mobilization. “Still, I wonder, can we even answer the question, ‘Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?’ Which Muslims? Which Christians? ‘Worship’ in the sense of ritual and tradition, or in the sense of lives as living sacrifices? ‘Same’ in terms of the ontological fact of one Almighty God, Creator of all things, or ‘same’ in sufficient congruence in the details of belief? ”
He proposes a better question: “Do we know the same God?”
When this American Muslim, reflects on this issue, I can’t help but ask what is our ultimate goal as Americans? Do we want to promote loving God and loving neighbor or do we want to promote exclusivity, I’m right and you’re wrong and I will not accept you unless you convert to my truth. Is this what we want for the future of our two families of faith?
In a recent interview with CT my friend Pastor Bob Roberts of Dallas said “People don’t accept your religion because you destroyed their religion. They accept your religion because you lift up Jesus ”
This is a great advice. If the American Christians and Muslims want closer relation and better understanding. Actually, learning from the Qur’an is not a bad idea. Especially, if we want to objectively know and love our neighbors.
God in the Qur’an taught Muhammad how to approach people: “Call people to the path of your Lord with wisdom and good advice and argue with them in the most courteous way, for your Lord knows best who strays from His path, and knows best who is rightly guided.” (16:125) He also told His Prophet: ” By God’s mercy, you [Prophet] were gentle toward them. If you had been rude and hard-hearted, they would have turned away from you. Pardon them, ask forgiveness for them, and consult them about the matter, but once you decide on a course of action, put your trust in God. God loves those who trust Him.” (03:159)
The wisdom called for when Muslims and Christians relations are discussed, is for each faith to deliver its message to the other in a loving and respectful manner. Not to compromise, but to be loving toward the other. If Muslims and Christians in the States are to grow together in love and understanding, I propose that they do it together not separately. To do it because they love God and their neighbors without hidden agendas.
How do we accomplish better understanding and more love? I suggest that we seek wisdom in three ways: by exploring deeper the faiths of the other; deeper into one’s own faith; and deeper into understanding the common good. Such threefold deep exploration can only be achieved through continual, long term engagement. Answering Jesus call to go and make disciples, will require a lot of wisdom and a commitment to love the other. I’m sure, once your Muslim neighbors see your extended hand they will grab it.
American Muslims have been subjected to a lot of hatred from the same neighbors who are supposed to love them. The latest was with the Anti-Sharia rallies. Evangelicals are best positioned to heal Muslim’s wounds and to share Jesus love with them by following Jesus teachings. Let us be kind to each other’s without compromising our beliefs. Let us speak loudly against hate and racism. Evangelicals are the majority in this country, it is up to them to treat Muslims with kindness if they seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Our goal should be serving others before ourselves. This will bring peace to your hearts and will heal ours.
 Matthew 6:33