Have Christians Gone Overboard in Outreach to Muslims?

by David J. Rusin • May 31, 2011 at 11:03 pm

In the Muslim world, Islamists increasingly target Christians for persecution; in the Western world, Christians increasingly target Muslims for outreach. Extending a hand to followers of Islam can be praiseworthy, but the lengths to which some Christians have gone may come as a shock. Consider a few recent cases on the congregational level:

  • Muslims using churches for prayer. Last year, Muslims awaiting construction of their mosque accepted a neighborly offer to pray at Heartsong Church in Cordova, Tennessee. An analogous arrangement exists at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Alexandria, Virginia. (Interestingly, each of the two Islamic communities is stained by radicalism: the first via Yasir Qadhi and the second via ICNA.) Opposition has grown rapidly, with Anglican priest Mark Durie contending that Muslim worship has “no place in a Christian church” due to Islam’s differing view of Jesus and prayers that chide Christianity.
  • Christians distributing Korans. In response to Christian pastor Terry Jones burning the Islamic holy book on March 20, leaders of Salt Lake City’s Wasatch Presbyterian Church pooled their money to purchase Korans, which later were passed out for free at an area store. This was done to help “push back against the lunatic fringe,” said Russell Fericks of the church’s governing board. “We’re not afraid of the truth,” he added.
  • Joint Christian-Muslim worship. On May 22, St. John’s Episcopal Church in Montclair, New Jersey, held an interfaith service that reportedly began with the Muslim call to prayer and incorporated readings from the Koran — even during Communion. “I’ve grown concerned about the demonization of Muslims. I want Montclair to develop an understanding of the religion,” Rev. Andrew Butler explained.
  • Half church, half mosque. A project in the Stockholm suburbs aims to graft a mosque onto an existing church. Bishop Bengt Wadensjö of the Church of Sweden, which owns the property, recently described this as a way to “demonstrate how people can get along together regardless of culture, language, or faith.” The plan is to renovate the current facility, expand space rented by Catholics, sell land to a Muslim group, build an adjacent mosque, and link the structures through a “communal foyer” to create “God’s House.”
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The U.S. Christian community is divided over whether or not to allow Muslims to use their churches as prayer space -- something that two Protestant churches have already done.

In addition, peculiar examples of individual Christian leaders reaching out to Muslims by mixing their faith with Islam include a Dutch Catholic bishop urging everyone to call God “Allah” in 2007, an American emergent church pastor joining the Ramadan fast in 2009, and an Episcopal minister in Missouri practicing aspects of Islam during this year’s Lent.

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There is nothing wrong with outreach to Muslims. However, when pursued in ways that come off as highly deferential and spiritually confused, it can embolden Islamists by suggesting that Christians are uncertain and weak. Encouraging tolerance of Muslims is laudable, but the unreciprocated trend of Christians effectively promoting Islam is troubling.

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