American Evangelicals are Loving their Muslim Neighbors
Fifty Evangelical leaders gathered at Calvin Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan on August 24-26 to discuss the state of Christian-Muslim relations in America. Seminary presidents and peacemakers, theologians and refugee workers, missiologists and pastors brought their combined wisdom and experience together to discern together what God is doing.
I have convened and attended many evangelical international gatherings focused on Muslims in the past. But this emphasis on the American context was new for me. And because it was a consultation we spent a lot of time around tables.
The consultation was sponsored by Fuller Seminary (my Alma Mater), Calvin Seminary, and the Lausanne Movement. We addressed a broad range of topics:
- The diversity of Islam
- Religious freedom
- The relationship between evangelism and dialogue
- The strengths and weaknesses of Muslim background believers being spokespersons and experts on Islam and Muslims
- The best method of engagement
Our time was punctuated by inspiring personal stories of how churches and organizations are loving their Muslim neighbors in practical, beautiful ways! Many more groups than I ever imagined are reaching out in love to their Muslim neighbors.
Dr. John Azumah from Ghana, who leads Lausanne's network on Islam, moderated much of the time. His wisdom and irenic spirit were greatly appreciated.
Two major challenges in American Christian-Muslim relations were discussed:
First, the fact that the majority of American evangelicals have negative views about Muslims. Bound by fear and ignorance about Islam, many evangelicals act as if the biblical commands to love the refugee (Leviticus 19:34; Numbers 15-16; Deuteronomy 10:17-19), to love our neighbor (Matthew 22:39) and to love our enemy (Matthew 5:44) somehow don’t apply to Muslims. Many confess a commitment to Christ but act in ways inconsistent with that profession (ok I am preaching a bit here!).
Second, the loudest Evangelical voices tend to be the most negative about Muslims. Consequently, there was a clear consensus that we need to do a much better job of amplifying positive evangelical voices - people like Bob Roberts Jr. and Michal Meulenberg.
I enjoyed my fellowship with John Azumah. Near the end of the consultation , John said, “Rick the work you do [in Peace Catalyst International] is at the core of the gospel!” Encouraging words from a global leader.