LYNCHBURG, Va. (BP)–Earlier this month, a group of religious figures gathered in Washington, D.C., in order to publicly condemn recent remarks on Islam and Mohammed by evangelical leaders, including me.
These leaders from the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) stated that they wished to “lovingly rebuke” those who have made controversial statements regarding Islam. In addition to me — while none of us were officially named — those targeted included evangelist Franklin Graham, CBN President Pat Robertson, Prison Fellowship Founder Chuck Colson and Dr. Jerry Vines, a past president of the Southern Baptist Convention and current pastor of the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Fla.
The Rev. Ted Haggard, president of the NAE and pastor of the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, said at the meeting, “Since we are in a global community, no doubt about it, we must temper our speech and we must communicate primarily through actions.”
The paradox is that none of the Christian leaders I mentioned were in attendance at this organized rebuke, which was titled, “Consultation on Evangelical Christian-Muslim Relations.” With the exception of Franklin Graham, who is a member of the NAE, none of us were even invited. In fact, I learned of the meeting only after being contacted by reporters from The Washington Post and The New York Times who were doing stories on the event.
I later learned that Rev. Haggard, who was only recently elected to his position, was not fully aware of the serious charges that would be made. Having talked with him since the meeting, I am convinced of his sincerity when he declares the event was not intended to be a personal rebuke of anyone. In fact, Rev. Haggard advised Mark DeMoss, publicist for Franklin Graham, in writing that he personally agreed with Franklin’s critical comments about Islam.
However, other NAE executives — perhaps craving a bit of the national spotlight — had scheduled the meeting before Rev. Haggard was recently elected president.
No one believes these other officials were naive when they painstakingly invited the major media to such a meeting. Clearly, their intent was to slam everyone who has criticized Islam and pat themselves on the back for taking their own designation of the high road.
Thankfully, NAE officials also reiterated their commitment to witnessing in the Muslim world and criticized the “naive” approach of the World Council of Churches, which has attempted to blur theological lines in its efforts of inclusion.
Nevertheless, this meeting clearly violated Scripture, particularly Matthew 18. In an e-mail to Rev. Haggard, Dr. Vines — referring to the biblical policy of rebuke set forth in Matthew — said he was confused by the manner of the so-called “rebuke.”
“I must say I am really amazed at a ‘loving rebuke’ being issued to a brother none of you know, and in the public secular media, at that,” Dr. Vines wrote.
He continued, “‘Rebuke’ is a pretty strong word. As I understand it, personal sin must be involved before a rebuke is issued. I would like for you to point out to me what my sin was for which you issued me a ‘loving rebuke.'”
The fact is that we, as Christian leaders, do have a biblically ordained responsibility to reach out with the Gospel of Christ to all people, including Muslims. This is not a popular concept with many on the left. But our responsibility is to Christ, and not our earthly critics, as we strive to do His will.
At the same time, there exists a fine line between evangelism and candidness. While we reach out with the Gospel, we also must retain our right to disapprove of the scores of violent occurrences that take place — frequently at the cost of Christian lives — at the hands of militant Muslims worldwide.
The politically correct notion is to pretend these actions do not exist so that the lives of American missionaries and fellow believers in Muslim nations will not be placed at risk.
As Wesley Pruden, editor in chief of The Washington Times, said, the translation is, “We’ve got to say how peaceful they are, or they’ll kill us.”
Robert Spencer, adjunct fellow with the Free Congress Foundation, recently said it is important that evangelical leaders not downplay the truth that “Christians continue to be persecuted all over the Muslim world.”
He said if evangelical leaders are going to be challenged in their interpretations of Islam, then those who are intent on promoting it as a peaceful religion need to confront the “unpleasant facts” about Islam too.
This is not a dilemma that will soon go away. Like any problem, we must address it wisely and prayerfully. I have committed to being more sensitive in my personal remarks about the followers of Islam. In the meantime, we must commit, as never before, to convey the Gospel of Christ — the only solution to the world’s problems — to all people.
Jerry Falwell is pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church and chancellor of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.