Overlooking the Problem

Last autumn, following the arrest of a Navy chaplain suspected of spying for al Qaeda, the Pentagon began a review of the way it recruits Muslim chaplains. At the center of the probe is the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences in Leesburg, Virginia, which had trained nine of the twelve Muslim chaplains in the Armed Forces and many prison chaplains. The graduate school is funded by the Saudis and is part of the effort to spread Wahhabi Islam. As anyone who bothers to look will discover, Wahhabism, which fueled the Taliban's repression and violence in Afghanistan, is no friend of Christianity. So, it might surprise you to learn that some Christians are eager to embrace the graduate school. Recently, the Washington Theological Consortium, which comprises fourteen "Christian schools of theology," voted unanimously to link up with the Islamic graduate school. As David Yount, the Consortium's vice-chairman, wrote, this means that "students preparing for the Muslim ministry will be sharing classes with American men and women studying to be Christian priests and pastors." As a colleague of mine, who attended one of the Consortium schools, quipped, "most of these schools don't get Christianity right. Why should we expect they would get Islam right?" That may be true. Still, the naivete on display in Yount's comments is breathtaking. He depicts the decision as an attempt to replace a "clash of civilizations" with an affirmation that "Christianity, Islam, and Judaism" share a "common origin" and "common values." This commonality, in Yount's estimation, overrides "the differences that separate" the religions. While he acknowledges that "competition" between Christianity and Islam is "occasionally violent" in places like Africa -- to say the least -- he offers no reason for why things get violent. So, let me do it for him. The past few decades have seen the spread of militant and intolerant forms of Islam throughout the world, much of it produced by the Saudi Wahhabism that underwrites the graduate school in Leesburg. Now it's possible and even desirable to have an honest exchange of ideas with Muslims. The problem is that Wahhabism arose in opposition to the sects of Islam that are open to dialogue. As Stephen Schwartz noted in the Weekly Standard, Wahhabism is particularly concerned with purging Islam from what it regards as Christian influences. Thus, prior to the Wahhabi conquest of Saudi Arabia in the 1920s, "local Christians maintained a church in Jeddah." Since then, all public expressions of Christianity have become illegal in Saudi Arabia. So why would a group of Christian theological schools want to associate with a sect that, once it becomes dominant, denies Christians the right to practice their religion? Sad to say, the politically correct desire to be "tolerant" and "open-minded" trumps all other concerns. These Christian schools talk about "shared values" and "common origins." What they don't see is the inconvenient truth: that is, that what the groups don't have in common -- namely, a belief in religious freedom -- is far more important than what they do share in common, because this involves the right of Christians and others to practice their faith, regardless of where they live. For further reading and information: Stephen Schwartz, "More Saudi Vandalism," Weekly Standard, 8 June 2004. Bill Broadway, "In a first, Muslim school joins U.S. theological group," Lexington Herald-Leader, 10 July 2004. David Yount, "Muslims working with Christians is good thing," Scripps Howard News Service, 31 May 2004. Edward E. Plowman, "Rubber-stamping Islamic chaplains?World, 11 October 2003. Angelo M. Codevilla, "Heresy and History," American Spectator, 14 May 2004. Craig S. Smith, "Europe Fears Converts May Aid Extremism," New York Times, 19 July 2004. (Free registration required.) Paul Marshall, "War against the Infidels," Weekly Standard, 5 July 2004. (Reprinted on the Center for Religious Freedom website.) Timothy George, Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad? (Zondervan, 2002). A CD interview with Dr. George is also available.


Chuck Colson



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