Attempt at dialogue with
Muslims sparks criticism of NAE
By Robert Marus
Associated Baptist Press
WASHINGTON (ABP)—The National Association of Evangelicals is under attack from some prominent Christian conservatives for its involvement in an attempt at Muslim-Christian dialogue.
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler, former presidential candidate Gary Bauer and other right-wing evangelical leaders are among those who criticized the move in a recent article on CitizenLink.com, part of evangelical broadcaster James Dobson’s Focus on the Family empire.
The critics said NAE president Leith Anderson and Rich Cizik, NAE’s government-affairs director, should not have added their names to a letter titled “Loving God and Neighbor Together: A Christian Response to ‘A Common Word Between Us and You.’”
Mohler, according to the website, said the letter “sends the wrong signal,” seems to “marginalize” the uniqueness and divinity of Christ, and that Anderson and Cizik’s participation represented “naiveté that borders on dishonesty.”
Bauer said the NAE officials’ participation in the letter makes him fear the evangelical group is “going down the same road that the National Council of Churches is going,” referring to the ecumenical Protestant group that many evangelicals view as too liberal.
The letter, published in a New York Times advertisement and spearheaded by four prominent Christian scholars at Yale Divinity School, was signed by a broad array of more than 300 evangelical, mainline Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox Christian leaders in the United States and abroad.
It was a response to an earlier letter, signed by more than 100 Muslim leaders from around the world, calling for Muslims, Christians and Jews to find commonality for the sake of preventing further religious suspicion and conflict. The Muslim scholars’ missive said the groups could agree that loving God and loving neighbors are “the two greatest commandments” and that they are “an area of common ground and a link between the Qur’an, the Torah and the New Testament.”
The Yale response, meanwhile, said the signatories “were deeply encouraged” by the Muslims’ letter. They said they received the effort “as a Muslim hand of conviviality and cooperation extended to Christians worldwide” and that they wanted to respond by extending “our own Christian hand in return, so that together with all other human beings we may live in peace and justice as we seek to love God and our neighbors.”
The letter also apologized for times in the past when professed Christians have not responded with grace to Muslims, specifically singling out the Crusades. “Before we ‘shake your hand’ in responding to your letter, we ask forgiveness of the All-Merciful One and of the Muslim community around the world,” the Christian leaders said, using a phrase for God common in the Muslim and Arab world.
Mohler specifically criticized the apology for the Crusades. “I just have to wonder how intellectually honest this is,” he said. “Are these people suggesting that they wish the military conflict with Islam had ended differently—that Islam had conquered Europe?”
Anderson, in a statement posted on the NAE website, said he signed the letter even though he had a few reservations about it.
“I requested some changes that were made although there were others I might have preferred,” he said. “Yes, I know that it is nearly impossible to keep going back to more than a hundred busy theologians and Christian leaders with the addition and subtraction and rewriting of words and paragraphs. Sometimes we all sign onto things that are not all that we would like them to be.”
But Anderson said he had sought the counsel of other evangelical leaders whom he respected, including those ministering among Muslims, who encouraged him to support the letter.
“They told me that signing the statement would be especially helpful to Christians who live and minister in Muslim-majority countries and cultures. In fact, some suggested that not signing could be damaging to these Christian brothers and sisters who live among Muslims,” he said.
Among the signatories was Martin Accad, dean of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Lebanon.
Anderson also noted that he signed the statement as an individual rather than as an official NAE representative.
Similar groups of conservative evangelicals in the past two years have criticized NAE, Cizik and Anderson for their involvement in other ecumenical causes and issues. In March, the organization’s board declined to discipline Cizik for his public involvement in calling on Christians to combat global warming, despite a letter from Dobson and other prominent evangelical conservatives urging them to do so.