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I used to scoff at writers such as Sam Harris, Kevin Phillips, and Chris Hedges when they warned that Christians were a major threat to American freedoms. Now, I’m not so sure. Of course, all their talk about Christians imposing a theocracy on America has about as much credibility as the “truther” theory that 9/11 was a U.S. government/Mossad conspiracy. But I wonder now if Christians, in their naivite and in their desire to be thought tolerant, aren’t inadvertently paving the way for an eventual Islamic theocracy.
It seems that quite a number of Christian churches are now involved in “outreach” programs with local mosques. The typical outreach is for a church to invite an Islamic leader to come in and explain Islam to the congregation. Naturally, the imams present Islam as a religion of peace and love. And naturally in their desire to appear loving and accepting, the Christians lap it up. The imams know how to press all the “tolerance,” “outreach,” and “respect” buttons, and the result is that the Christians end up thinking Islam is just another nice, brotherly religion like their own. As a result, they can probably be counted on not to oppose the building of a local mosque, or for that matter not to oppose any Muslim agenda or initiative. Islamic leaders have done a good job of framing their grievances as civil rights issues, and this, of course, has great appeal to the many Christians who see the pursuit of social justice as their main mission. Mentally, many Christians still live in the days of “We Shall Overcome” and lunch counter sit-ins. They think that in supporting and defending Islam they are like the Christians in the sixties who linked arms with civil rights marchers, and sang hymns together.
Lately, Muslim leaders have been taking advantage of the Christian disposition for outreach by offering outreach programs of their own. 20,000 Dialogues is a nationwide interfaith initiative that helps local level imams set up outreach programs, and provides films and speakers to facilitate the dialogue. The current offering is a film titled “Inside Islam: What a Billion Muslims Think.” The film is based on a study of Muslim attitudes conducted by John Esposito of Georgetown University’s Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, and Dalia Mogahed, Director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies. Like the study, the film massages the polling data to make it appear that Islam is a predominately peaceful religion.
One such outreach was conducted on July 24th at the Lamb of God Church in Fort Myers, Florida. The guest speaker was Imam Shaker Elsayed of the Falls Church, Virginia mosque, “Dar Al Hijrah”—the same mosque where Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki mentored Major Nidal Hasan, the perpetrator of the Fort Hood massacre. Elsayed himself is the former Secretary General of the Muslim American Society, an organization which has been described by Stephen Schwartz as a “major component” of the “Wahhabi Lobby.”
Aside from the dubious connections of the speaker and the dubious nature of the film, the most interesting aspect of the presentation was the response of the 400-member audience. With a few exceptions they liked it. And they didn’t like the attempt by some members of ACT for America and the Florida Security Council who were present to ask tough questions during the Q&A session. Although Imam Elsayed portrayed Jesus in a way that should have been offensive to Christians, the audience was much more concerned with Muslim sensitivities. Their sympathies were obviously with the representatives of Islam, and against the critics of Islam.
The other interesting aspect of the presentation was the ability of Daniel Tutt, the young and articulate director of 20,000 Dialogues, to weave the critics’ attempt to tell the other side of the story into his own narrative of “building bridges” and “avoiding stereotypes.” Interviewed afterward by a TV reporter, Tutt said that the dissent “clearly emphasizes the need for more communications.” In other words, those who criticize Islam misunderstand it and need to be educated. And how is Islam to be understood? Answer: in a positive way. “We feel,” said Tutt, “that by reaching 20,000 dialogues we will help to create a measurable shift in the negative understanding that Americans have toward Muslims.” The whole premise of the “dialogues” endeavor is that an unfavorable opinion of Islam is an uneducated opinion. This also seems to be the opinion of the Reverend Walter Fohs, the pastor of the Lamb of God Church. According to the Fort Myers News-Press, “Much of the hype, fostered in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, may be caused by Christians’ lack of understanding of their own religion, said the Rev. Walter Fohs…” Fohs went on to say that there are more violent chapters in the Bible than in the Koran.
This moral equivalence argument sits well with many Christians because, like Americans in general, they have been nurtured on multicultural myths about the essential equality of different cultures and religions. So they are quite happy to nod in agreement when they are informed by the Islamic representative (or by their own pastor) that Islam is no more a threat than the synagogue down the street. For too many Christians, the essence of Christianity boils down to tolerance and non-judgmentalism. Moreover, Christianity in America has become so mixed up with therapy and pop psychology that, nowadays, the surest sign of election is feeling good about oneself. It is, of course, much easier to feel good about yourself if you can congratulate yourself on being tolerant, sensitive, and respectful of differences. It’s likely that many of the Christians who attend outreach presentations like the one at Lamb of God Church aren’t really interested in being educated about Islam. What they are really seeking is confirmation of their existing multicultural assumptions. So their sympathies will lie with those who tell them that it’s reasonable to keep dreaming dreams of interfaith harmony, and they will resist those who want to wake them from the dream.
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