Saturday, November 22, 2008

Sloppy Agape

The Wall Street Journal recently published a breath taking powerful article by a Quaker woman about a phony baloney conference at Yale University on what was falsely billed as a "Muslim-Christian Conference on Reconciliation". The article ends with these two paragraphs and needs to be read in full to be appreciated.

The cost of a phony love-fest between Christian and Muslim leaders could be high. There is already a great imbalance in knowledge or respect, if not both. As part of our confirmation course, when I was a teenage Methodist in rural Ohio in the 1970s, we were taken not only to a synagogue but to a mosque and learned the basics of both faiths. But the Muslim cleric who lectured to us clearly disapproved of Christianity, and the minister misled him to keep the peace. We don't want to be called Mohammedans, the Muslim huffed; we don't worship Mohammed, who was a man. The minister jumped in to assure him that we were just the same—we didn't call ourselves Jesus-ans or anything like that. I nearly gasped at the lie, but I wasn't bold enough to challenge it.
I'm bolder now. (It's amazing what a decade in Africa will do to you.) And truth in theology while theology approaches politics is worth a bold defense.

Essential to Muslim extremism is the notion that the West is decadent and not attached to its professed values. "Violence will weaken political support for Israel" has a religious parallel: "The West resists adopting Islam only because Muslims do not push hard enough against Christianity." Not to speak up for Christianity with complete honesty sends our Muslim interlocutors home with a time-bomb version of us: either that we have no objection to being like them, or that we are in essence like them already. America has made the mistake of assuming our values are universal, and we may be encouraging the same kind of assumption about ourselves.

Those who want to "reconcile" with Muslims, Devil Worshippers, Hindus, Buddhists often miss the mark. They insist that it is always the Christian's duty to allay the fears and sensibilities of others by telling them untruths and watering down our core values. This is not reconciliation but keeping secrets in hopes of getting along. This approach may skip being uncomfortable in the present at the risk of all out war later.

I am a therapist who has often had to help family members, partners and Christians reconcile. In most cases it requires telling each other the truth and confessing our sins in the expectation of forgiveness. Can that happen without being honest? Can that happen with people who do not believe in sin, guilt, confession and forgiveness?

Gary Sweeten

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