Are Christian and Muslim Convictions Compatible with American Values?

Are Christian and Muslim Convictions Compatible with American Values? January 31, 2013

Are Christian and Muslim convictions compatible with American values? I suppose it depends on which convictions one is talking about, and what American values one has in mind.

I find it inconceivable that Christianity and Islam could ever affirm secularism as a reigning ideology. Here I am referring to the attempt to bracket consideration of God from public life. The more secularism as articulated here becomes entrenched in American society as a reigning value system the less compatible Christian and Muslim convictions will be with America’s value system. Please note that I used the words “public life” in a prior sentence. While many Christians are comfortable with privatizing or compartmentalizing their faith, biblical Christianity sits uncomfortably with compartmentalization of the faith in view of its claim that Jesus is Lord over all domains. I believe the same abhorrence for the bracketing of the faith from public life is found in large segments of Islam. Christianity can make space for what we might call the secular (in contrast to that which is deemed sacred, as in sacred art, etc.) and for secularists and can operate alongside secularists in pursuit of democratic values, but public faith requires that we speak to those shared democratic values from our Christian heritage and biblical vantage point in pursuit of the common good. Wouldn’t the same hold true for Muslims?

I do believe Christianity and Islam can operate well within a pluralistic world. Of course, the history is very spotty for both religions, but adherents of both religious traditions have often had to operate among other faiths and can make space for other perspectives to operate. America has always valued a form of pluralism, as exemplified in its doctrine of the separation of church and state. As long as such separation does not entail compartmentalization, and as long as public witness to Christianity and Islam does not move toward religious totalitarianism, these faiths can flourish and help the country to flourish. We Christians and Muslims will need to learn how to work together in cultivating public theologies and civil society in cooperation with those of other religious persuasions and secular vantage points. We will need to generate new narratives that do not compromise but champion the narratives of our respective traditions and our country’s fundamental values of liberty and justice. The American experiment with religion that shaped the civic sphere in light of Protestantism, Catholicism and Judaism will need to expand, not retract and be reduced to a secular experiment. Only by coming together as various religious and secular traditions in the effort to cultivate a just and equitable society will we ever be able to embody our country’s founding ideal of making this a nation by all the people for all the people, whoever they may be.

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