Truth In The Closet

Last month, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released the results of a poll measuring Americans' attitudes towards religion and whether the surge in religious activity in the weeks following September 11 had any staying power. With one notable exception, it didn't. The exception is Americans' attitudes towards Muslim- Americans. A year ago, forty-five percent of those surveyed told Pew they had a favorable impression of Muslim-Americans. By November that number had risen to fifty-nine percent, which could be taken as a sign simply of the increased interest in religion. But the new poll shows that, while American's attitudes towards religion in general have returned to pre- September 11 levels, Muslims are still benefiting from the surge. Fifty-four percent of all Americans hold a favorable impression of Muslim-Americans, twenty percent higher than a year ago. The poll results tell a second story. Nearly half of those polled agreed with the statement that "some religions are more likely than others to encourage violence." There's little doubt that the religion they had in mind was Islam. According to Andrew Kohut, the director of the Pew Center, the findings point to a "closet concern in the linkage between Islam and violence." If Americans are concerned about the link between Islam and violence, why do they continue to say they have a favorable impression of Muslims? Of course, we want all Americans to love our Muslim neighbors, but Christians ought to love them enough to want to lead them to a true religion of love. The explanation for these schizoid attitudes lies in the mushy, civil religious ecumenism that so many of our political and religious leaders have championed. It insists that Islam is a religion of peace and that the highjackers highjacked Islam as well as the airplanes. The Pew study shows that while Americans feel obliged to repeat this politically correct palaver, they actually have doubts -- that they're afraid to voice them at the risk of being labeled "bigots." As I learned from personal experience, these fears are justified. Earlier this year, I spoke to a meeting of evangelicals in Boston about the theological differences between Christianity and Islam. I called on Christians to lovingly point out these differences to their Muslim neighbors because when Jesus told us to "preach the Gospel to all nations," He included Muslims. In the light of September 11, I believe, Muslims should be having doubts about their own religion and, perhaps, be open to the Gospel. These words were described as "ill-conceived" and "dangerous" by Charles Austin in the Bergen(NJ) Record. He wrote that my remarks invoked memories of the Crusades and the forced conversion of Jews during the Medieval period. He even compared what he called "hard-line evangelism" to the imposition of Islamic law by the Taliban. This is where religious ecumenism leads us. Tolerance, instead of meaning treating each other civilly despite our differences, becomes denying those differences, and criticizing your neighbor's worldview is tantamount to hate speech. The result then is a public square where important issues can't be honestly discussed, truth claims can't be made, and people won't admit what they believe. That's why Christians must expose the politically correct ecumenism. If not, truth itself may become a permanent fixture in America's closet.  
For Further Reading and Information
"Americans Struggle With Religion's Role at Home and Abroad," Pew Forum press release, 20 March 2002. Charles Austin, "Colson's Call to Convert Muslims Is Dangerous," Bergen Record, 14 February 2002. BreakPoint commentary, No. 011218, "Mushy Ecumenism: Incoherent Civil Religion." "Americans Are Most Likely to Base Truth on Feelings," Barna Research, 12 February 2002.  


Chuck Colson


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