I grew up in an evangelical home, attending an evangelical megachurch. I was also homeschooled. Like many others, I learned that Muhammad founded Islam after the Archangel Gabriel appeared to him in mountain cave. Unlike many others, however, I was told that what appeared to Muhammad was actually a demon disguised as an angel. I was taught that the Koran was dictated by demons.
This came to mind repeatedly as I read a Christianity Today article titled How Should Christians Respond to Christchurch Mosque Massacre? The article included quotes from a variety of Christian religious leaders. While most of the responses were very good, many (if not most) of the authors were not actually evangelical.
I should note, just so that there is no lack of clarity, that I am no longer an evangelical Christian, and that I no longer believe what I was taught as a teen about the founding of Islam. What I want to communicate here is simply that evangelical leaders need to be honest about the ways in which their teachings and believes about Islam have helped create a climate of Islamophobia. You cannot teach those in your pews that a religion was founded by demons, and then be surprised if they end up seeing Muslims as evil.
In his quote in the Christianity Today article, Martin Accad, of Fuller Theological Seminary—which is definitely evangelical but not as conservative as Liberty or even Grove City College—had this to say:
Admittedly, the shooters did not claim a Christian worldview or motivation, but rather seem to have been motivated by racism, white supremacy, and xenophobia. However, Christians must search their souls for any contribution they might have made to the current shape of our societies’ attitude towards Islam and Muslims.
Our churches are feeding on too many aggressive, polemical, and fearful writings about Islam and Muslims. Many books written by evangelicals in recent years contribute to fear and xenophobia instead of fighting these feelings and reactions with the loving and peaceful attitude that our Lord Jesus taught us and modeled for us.
This is an overall good response. It admits that evangelicals specifically have helped feed xenophobia. Fuller, by the way, has worked to create collaborative conversations between evangelical Christians and Muslims going back to 2003. In fact, scholars at Fuller have garnered some controversy by stating that Muslims and Christians worship the same God—a statement which got a professor dismissed from the somewhat more conservative Wheaton College a few years back.
Christianity Today was never able to fully resolve their feelings on the controversy over Wheaton professor Larycia Hawkins’ comments. Did Muslims and Christians worship the same God? This question roiled the evangelical world for months.I wonder whether looking at evangelicalism’s relationship to Islam in isolation of other religions may be distracting us from seeing a fuller picture, however. I wasn’t just taught that Islam was founded by demons; I was taught that all religions outside of Christianity were founded through the involvement of demons.
The argument was as follows: Satan is God’s enemy. God created plan of salvation that offers mankind a pathway to heaven—but to access it, you have to trust Jesus as your savior, which effectively means you have to become a Christian. Satan does not want this. He wants to keep people from becoming Christians. So anytime you hear of someone having a “vision” and creating a non-Christian religion, that vision was actually seeded by demons, on purpose, to keep people from becoming Christians.
This gets way deep. Any “miracles” that other religions take credit for, for example, were likely done with the power of Satan and his demons. Because, again, Satan and his demons want to keep people from becoming Christians, so if they can convince someone that a non-Christian religion is true—by powering miracles—they win. They keep that person from any interest in Christianity. Within this view of things, non-Christian religions are literally demonic.
Mind you, I am not saying that this is what every evangelical believes. But it is certainly something that many evangelicals believe. And even those evangelicals who may see much of this as more human still holds perhaps the core evangelical belief: that believing the core precepts of Christianity is required for salvation, that those who are not saved will go to hell, and that missionary activity is therefore very important.
Even those evangelicals who don’t believe Islam was founded by demons—who perhaps think Muhammad was an ordinary person who had visions through ordinary human processes—even these evangelicals still believe that Muslims are going to hell, unless they leave Islam and convert to Christianity. That set of beliefs is going to affect your relationships with your Muslim neighbors. How could it not?
This all said, I hope evangelicals listen to Christian leaders like those quoted in the Christianity Today article referenced above. There are more cooperative and more xenophobic perspectives within evangelical approaches to Islam. But I think evangelical leaders need to do some fundamental thinking about what it means to be an evangelical—about the fact that an emphasize on conversion and evangelism that posits that other religions lead to hell is going to inherently create problems, no matter how it is softened.
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