It seems like every day another news story reports an effort to mend US-Muslim relations. Who can forget the uproar when Rick Warren and over 300 others signed "Loving God and Neighbor Together," a letter penned by Yale University's Center for Faith and Culture, which sought to create dialogue between Muslims and Christians? I remember Baptist Press demanding that one Southern Baptist professor give his rationale for signing that letter. In fact, they published his rationale alongside another article, drawing on the comments of Al Mohler who called the letter "troubling." The problem people had with the Yale letter was that it capitulated on foundational Christian beliefs in an effort to be gracious.
In this case, I think that Mohler et al. were justified in their criticisms. As much as we desire dialogue with any disenfranchised group, whether they are Muslim or Mormon or gay, we cannot sacrifice who we are as Christ-followers simply to achieve conversation. Conversation for the sake of conversing is neither profitable nor a good use of one's time. We must be true to ourselves as we seek to engage others who are at variance with our religious beliefs.
Perhaps that is why a more recent attempt to bridge the Muslim gap troubles me. This time the effort came by way of a document, "Changing Course: A New Direction for U.S. Relations with the Muslim World," which was signed by 33 American leaders meeting at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund conference center. Participants included former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, author Steven Covey, American Petroleum Institute president Red Cavaney and an assortment of professors and former government officials. The one participant representing an evangelical group was Richard Land, President of the SBC's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
The most glaring problem with this effort is that while they rightly emphasize diplomacy as the primary tool for bringing peace and encourage the civic participation in governance, they completely ignore the gross oppression of religious liberty in the Muslim world. It is impossible to comprehensively address Muslim relations without addressing religious oppression. As one commentator stated in the December 13/20 issue of WORLD magazine, "[The report's rhetoric] sounds good, but the report skips questions of religious liberty--and without that fundamental freedom, "democracy" will merely mask tyranny."
Countries like Libya, Algeria, and Iran openly suppress the expression of liberty among Christians, Jews and other non-Muslims. In places like Sudan where 1.5 million Sudanese have been martyred for their faith in the last 15 years, we have seen the results of unchecked suppression of religious liberty. Opposing this sort of atrocity is at the core of what a Christ-follower should be, and we cannot and should not check that at the door in the name of dialogue.
Christians must never compromise our stance on religious freedom. We are a people on mission, and each year we send missionaries to closed countries where they risk their lives for the gospel. In the case of Southern Baptists, we must be careful that the "Relgious Liberty" in "Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission" remains an integral and fundamental part of our public witness rather than a mere afterthought. I think we can and must do a better job of loving our Muslim neighbors while demanding that they pursue civility and freedom in places where they enjoy governmental control.