News Articles

Student-missionaries issue letter urging restraint in anti-Islam tone

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–An appeal for a change in tone in Baptists’ comments about Islam has been issued by a group of student-missionaries stationed in Muslim-dominated lands.

The appeal was framed as a letter from a group of seminary students, their spouses and several single seminarians, said George Braswell, distinguished professor of missions and world religions at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. Braswell said he carried the letter back to the United States at the students’ request after a Jan. 2-11 training session with the 27 individuals.

The students are enrolled in “two-plus-two” studies, a cooperative venture with the International Mission Board in which they earn their seminary degrees by studying stateside two years and then serving two years as IMB-related International Service Corps workers overseas.

Braswell, a longtime Southeastern faculty member and former missionary to Iran in the 1970s, circulated the letter to Baptist Press and other media after returning to the States.

The students and spouses, in their 300-word letter, urged Baptists to focus more on Muslims’ need for salvation in Jesus Christ than on criticizing the Muslim faith and its founder, Muhammad.

Braswell, in an interview, described the two-plus-two missionaries as including some individuals in their 40s; having children from 1-11 years of age; some having left careers in business and engineering; and, now, working “in the trenches” in various Muslim-dominated regions in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Their names typically are not publicized by the IMB due to security reasons.

After voicing greetings to Baptists “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ,” the students wrote:

“We wanted to take the time to write to you on an issue that concerns us and our families, and we trust that it concerns you all as well. We are currently living within several Muslim majority communities the world over. Comments by Christians in the West about Islam and Muhammad can and do receive much attention in our cities and communities on local radio, television, and print sources. These types of comments have and can further the already heightened animosity toward Christians, more so toward Evangelicals, and even more so toward Baptists. We are not sure if you are aware of the ramifications that comments that malign Islam and Muhammad have not only on the message of the Gospel but also upon the lives of our families as we are living in the midst of already tense times. We prayerfully ask you, as brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ, to focus public comments about Muslims on their need for salvation that is found only by faith in Jesus Christ. We encourage you to make comments and to live your lives in a way that will contribute positively toward the preaching of the Gospel in the lives of over a billion people who hold the religion of Islam and its prophet dearly. We have found it more beneficial with our Muslim friends to concentrate on sharing Christ in love and concentrating on the message of the Gospel, instead of speaking in a degrading manner about their religion or prophet. We encourage you all to reach out to the people of Islam in love and in a fashion that is consistent with the life of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The students’ letter did not mention by name any Christian leader who has been quoted in the media in recent months as challenging Islam as a noble or peaceful religion.

Avery Willis, International Mission Board senior vice president for overseas operations, said in a statement to the media, “These IMB workers wanted to emphasize a focus on bearing witness for Christ as a blessing to Muslims, rather than arguing Islam versus Christianity. I believe what they were trying to say is that their concern is communicating the gospel to lost persons without having to defend what someone in America said about Islam.”

Paige Patterson, president of Southeastern Seminary, said in a statement to Baptist Press: “The missionaries who issued the letter are remarkable young people who risk life and family to take Christ to exceedingly difficult places. Their concern is understandable. My last utterance to God before I sleep and first in the morning when I rise is for their safety and usefulness. What the students missed is the obvious. The situation that called forth such a letter, the appalling absence of religious liberty in the Moslem world coupled with the acute fear of the repetition of events such as the murder of our medical personnel in Yemen, accentuate the necessity for people both at home and around the world to be made aware of precisely what the Koran teaches and how many interpret those teachings. How best to couple our message of love with our concerns about religious liberty and Islamic militancy is the tightrope we all must learn to walk.”