I depart from the lectionary this week to address a concern that threatens to alienate Islam from Christianity in irreparable ways. Just as many Christians have not been able to distinguish varied strands in Islam, many Muslims will not be able to separate the larger Christian witness from a sectarian church, The Dove World Outreach Center, in Gainesville, FL, that commemorates September 11, 2001, by burning copies of the Quran. General Petraeus has warned that this kind of aggressive and destructive action will be costly—perhaps in lives, surely in understanding and good will. The irony of a church named after a symbol of peace burning texts held sacred by another world religion is not lost on world-wide observers.
Muslims and Christians have a long history of antipathy, and violence has marked both sides of the divide. Whether it be ancient crusades, current caricatures, or persistent geographical conflicts, neither Christianity nor Islam has clean hands in its relation to the religious “other.” Attempts at mutual understanding are resisted by larger sectors within both traditions for fear that finding common ground may compromise the distinctive theological vision each holds. Historically Christian seminaries such as Claremont and Hartford, who seek to educate clergy of the “Abrahamic traditions,” are criticized for eclipsing evangelical zeal in these overtures. Respect for the lived religions of others is praeparatio evangelica—a preparation for further dialogue about the Gospel, truth claims that direct Christian pathways. While Eusebius of Caesarea (263-339 C.E.) wrote to prove the excellence of Christianity over rival faiths, his engagement remains a model for thoughtful articulation of a Christian world view amidst competing claims. We must not be afraid to shine the light of careful scrutiny on our religious tradition as well as those who differ in radical ways. Comparing the “best” of Christianity with the “worst” of Islam never leads to clarity—or charity, for that matter. The gap between principle and practice is found in both beliefs.
Coercive conversion never accomplishes proper religious ends. From the time of Constantine to 2010, Christians betray the Prince of Peace by such methods. The “sword,” whether literal or verbal, is not the way of Jesus. Let us resist the violence and evil done in his name.
Molly T. Marshall
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