Monday, January 5, 2009

Diplomacy at The Expense of Liberty?

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. 

Your thoughts?


Zach said...


I appreciate your candor here. This is a significant challenge indeed. The central questions (as I see it) being, "How do you have a conversation when one side has already dismissed you as wrong, evil, infidel, (insert adjective here)?"

Human rights violations abound, but I am often cynical about who is pointing the finger from the perceived "higher-ground." Like you, the suppression of religious liberties is disconcerting, but perhaps redemptive conversation is best done with all of our eye-planks in full view.

America, and Southern Baptists alike have a history of honoring religious liberty...but they also have a history of denying it as well.

There is no "pure" way forward in efforts like this. We can only bring our flawed project to the table. Equally important is the critique of said projects.(Which is what your post is) As the two bump up against one another we may get further along than when we started.

Thanks for adding your critical voice. Its moved me to think more about endeavors like this.

Anonymous said...


Thanks again for an interesting post.

I'm not really going to go into great detail right now. I'm just not sure it's worth it - because neither side is "right", and I don't have a worthy opinion to share regarding the 'argument'.

Government policy and theological differences aside - it matters not the means nor the goals sought if it is not derived from the Love of God and for His Glory.

It's a simplistic and selfish idea to seek "diplomatic consolation"...even world peace is a simple and self-centered ambiguity if it is not rooted in the Love of Christ for the Glory of God.

The peace that man can bring through means of diplomacy (or other) are but fleeting moments in human history....

In any case - yes, it is nice to know that there is "right motives" and "good goals" in mind (at least in statement - whether in fact is often questionable).

However, I trust The Lord's promises first and ultimately - His peace, that is above all human understanding. God's peace is not absence of conflict. Rather, His peace is strength and rest in the midst of it.

In spite of and in lieu of man, on this promise I rely.

Anonymous said...

TOtally unrelated:'s something interesting.

We have a 4 slice toaster that one side stopped least, the button doesn't stay down. (Probably just a spring that came disconnected). We contacted the manufacturer - it's only about 2 months old.

They told us - we'll send you a new one. Cut the chord off of the old one and throw it away.

How can they do that?? That's not good for the environment. I'm not going to throw it away - I'll fix it and give it to someone who needs it.

Seriously - they're sending a new one to us and they told us to throw the other one questions asked. I don't get it...

Anonymous said...


I thought you might be interested in this article from TimesOnline UK:
As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God

Missionaries, not aid money, are the solution to Africa’s biggest problem - the crushing passivity of the people’s mindset

The author goes on to say that In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

I just thought this was an interesting article.

If an "atheist" can see this - why can't the post-modern western theologically desensitized tolerant church in America see it?

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