Friday, February 6, 2015

A third way for Christians to engage with Muslims

Some Christians regard Muslims as the enemy, and are quick to link them all to terrorists.

Other Christians are just as eager to paper over differences between the faiths and focus on, say, their common connection to Abraham.

Joshua Ralston, a professor at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Va., sees a third way for Christians.

To approach Muslims with honesty about disagreements. With the love Jesus calls on his followers to have for their neighbors. And with a freedom that allows adherents of both faiths to bear witness to their beliefs – including Christians’ claims about Jesus and Muslims’ claims about the Prophet Muhammad.

“If we’re going to improve our encounters with one another, we have to create this space for us to both share what is deepest about what we believe,” he says. “Friendship isn’t always marked by agreement. It’s marked by honesty and exchange and trust.”

Ralston, who lived in Egypt and the Palestinian West Bank in 2011-13, will speak at 4 p.m. Sunday (Feb.8) at Charlotte’s Union Presbyterian Seminary, 5141 Sharon Road. The event is free. Here’s some of what he told me in an interview.

On the charge that moderate Muslims don’t condemn terrorism: “Islam is a diverse religion – just like Christianity – and there are numerous Muslims who have issued fatwas (Islamic rulings) against suicide bombings. There is a massive statement signed by the heads of many major Islamic institutions against ISIS. There are Muslims who are continually standing up against these terrorist militant groups. And Muslims are the ones who have been killed more than anyone else.”

On Christian amnesia: “I don’t want to justify at all what happened with the burning of the pilot from Jordan (by ISIS). But I keep seeing all these Christians posting, ‘What religion would ever do this?’ As if we’ve totally forgotten the Salem witch trials. As if we (Presbyterians) totally forgot that John Calvin – one of the main founders of the Reformed Presbyterian tradition – allowed for the burning of a heretic in Geneva. That doesn’t justify it. But Christians – our hands aren’t clean historically. And they aren’t clean right now: In the Central African Republic, Christian militias are killing Muslims.”

On Duke University’s plan – later reversed – to let Muslim students use the chapel: “There are issues that need to be discussed: Is Duke’s chapel a Christian space or a university space? But the virulent anti-Muslim backlash became the main issue. And yet when they decided to do the call to prayer (outside the chapel), there were Christians from Duke Divinity School and local pastors there there in support of the Muslims. That story needs to be told as much as the Franklin Graham (reaction to Duke’s plan).”

Being Christian in the Middle East: “You can’t be a Christian in Saudi Arabia publicly. But I think in our minds we think all of the Arab world and all of the Muslim world is like that. That’s not the case. I lived in Ramallah (in the Palestinian West Bank) for almost two years. I went to church publicly, On Easter, Muslims would come out and celebrate with Christians. And Christians would celebrate Ramadan with Muslims.”

On Franklin Graham’s claim that Muslims worship a different God: “Christians and Muslims both speak of the same God, but we speak about God differently and on some of those points we disagree. Most Christians have this belief in the Trinity. (Muslims don’t.) But neither do Jews. And I’m sure Franklin Graham thinks Jews worship the same God.”

-- Tim Funk


Anonymous said...

I don't have a problem with Muslims. I have a problem with that incompetent man we elected president. Obama is not an American and he should not be a president. He is absolutely the worst president in the history of the United States of America. By the way, I am a southern black man who is unafraid to call out Obama on his crap.

Anonymous said...

I have to say it's very frightening that this "expert" and our own president would harken back to Christianity's dark days and try to make that comparison to what is going on today with Islamic terrorists. Most people have evolved, including Christians. Radical Islam is ingrained today into the minds of Muslim children. We are taken aback about the brutality. They grow up in a blood-thirsty society. They see public beheadings, dismemberments, hangings. This is the norm, something they see as justified in their teachings. We need to be brave enough to call it what it is and expect significant steps to wipe this off the globe, not just issue mere words.

Anonymous said...

When did you last live in the Middle East? Because Christians are being murdered just because they are not Muslim now, today. I assume you understand what caliphate and sharia law means and that you are a kafir.

I will also assume that you know democracy and Western Civilization are democracies and republics made by elected people, while caliphate and sharia rules by theocracy. Perhaps it is time Western Civilization woke up before it is too late and we have to face what Europe will face, and Turkey has faced.

Islam is more than a religion, it is a social and political structure that does not allow opposition. Of course, you knew that, so WHY are you obscuring facts? Shame on you.

Anonymous said...

How can you be so smart and yet reply as anonymous?? You are an idiot, maybe show up with the humility that you might not know everything and you just might learn something TRUE

Larry said...

I will let you have a bag of M and M s

You have 100 of them in the bag to eat, only two or maybe one have poison.


Anonymous said...

I don't know any Christians ( true ones) who hate Muslims. To the contrary - I know many who are actively involved in reaching them for Christ and providing for their physical needs. I know many who love them and are friends with them. Calling up the crusades is not relevant and divisive - as if a bad deed 1000 years ago suddenly explains current atrocity- how foolish and unwise.

Anonymous said...

The 10:02 AM comment is priceless. They should up anonymous to call out others who are anonymous. They do not refute the facts, but call names "idiot". They request humility, but show none. And then propose to know "TRUE". The closer we get to the actual truth and facts, the more they will attack you. Brigitte Gabriel, Dr. Bill Warner, and Pamela Geller would have been better speakers on this matter. Maybe next time you can request their input as specialists on the matter.

Bert Oleander said...

"On Christian amnesia"
The instances mentioned are just that, instances. None of them are the result of a command from God to Christians to establish a God-ordained, all-encompassing theocracy to rule over all people's. Look to the history of Islam; it consists of violence, conquest and expansion.

“Friendship isn’t always marked by agreement. It’s marked by honesty and exchange and trust.”
I don't understand this underlying drive-to-appeasement; Christ calls us not to "friendship" but to faith and obedience. Jesus himself spoke parables about those who would be turned away. Paul teaches that we should even avoid--not judge and condemn, mind you, but avoid--certain people. Is friendship more important than obedience?

Dorakin Warhammer said...

Mr. President and liberals like this author — Many people in history have used the name of Jesus Christ to accomplish evil things for their own desires. But Jesus taught peace, love and forgiveness. He came to give His life for the sins of mankind, not to take life.”

“Muhammad on the contrary was a warrior and killed many innocent people. True followers of Christ emulate Christ — true followers of Muhammad emulate Muhammad."
- Billy Graham

Spare us the moral equivalence, straw man arguments and call to be freinds with islamic radicals.

Anonymous said...

Obama met with American muslim leaders in the White House for advice and got his desired pc answer.

Hard to believe Obama defends sunni muslim terrorism equating ISIS to the Xian Crusades of 1000 yrs ago. Total pc garbage.

PartTimeBibleThumper said...

Such lovely 'christians' on this forum. Showing their true beliefs of hate and hypocrisy.

Anonymous said...


You can't hide the ol H&H, even in a bag of M&Ms. ;-)


Great article Tim! True Christians will be finding ways to reach out to Muslims and build community in the face of the false prophets of ISIS, etc.

Anonymous said...

Well Tim?

Did you imagine stirring up this kind of tempest in a teapot with this article?

I might chuckle, if some of these comments didn't frighten me quite so much.

Tim Funk said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tim Funk said...

Tim Funk here. Wanted to challenge a few commenters' assertions:

Dorakin -- I think that quote is from Franklin Graham, not Billy Graham.

And Bert, re: your comment about only Muslims guilty of expansion and conquest. Ever heard of European colonialism? It's in all the history books. Spreading Christianity was a big part of that history.

Anonymous said...

Spreading western Christianity is unequivocally and unambiguously required of all Christians by their Creator's completed Book Of Life because it is the only real divine truth in the universe. Everything else is pagan especially islam. Read up how these false religions and false prophets were predicted thousands of years ago and don't say you weren't warned.
Thank you Christian Crusaders and Colonialism.

Anonymous said...

Funk, just don't draw a funny little picture of the murderous prophet. Also, don't ask the hard questions about sharia law, it would not fit the dialog you are trying to convince the uninformed of.

Anonymous said...

This is a joke, right?

Anonymous said...

Funny how some of these "Christians" above excuse the atrocities of Crusaders and Salem Calvinists. Radical Islam are murderers and should be condemned. But they are not the Muslims being addressed to interact with here. People excusing the past atrocities of Christians don't understand the word "repent". As a Christian, I don't accept and will not ever accept the negative things that people have done in Jesus' name.

Unknown said...

First of all, most of the people who are posting here about muslims probably don't know any muslims except those from tv or newspapers. The analogy used by the President made sense because there are parallels in the developement of both religions. The reforms that happen in Christianity occurred because of reformers in the religion. Islam has not been around as long as Christianity and those people have to go through the same things as everyone else. Christians killed in the name of Christ is a fact. Muslims kill in the name of Islam is a fact. There are people working within the Islamic world to change the way things are happening over there so that these things no longer occur. And in order to understand and help there needs to be discussion.
And if you know that you have a bag of M&Ms that have two poisonous ones in them, just take the bad ones out and eat the rest.

Anonymous said...

There are always apologists for the atrocities being done yesterday and today in the name is islam. Now the latest excuse is it is 600 years younger than Christianity. Oh great, so we have to wait another 600 years for civility in the world? Too many people are either deceptive or ignorant of the truth. Islam began as an army and still conducts its jihad. But I will let the imans speak for themselves.
In 2011, popular Imam Sirhaj Wahhaj offered Muslims a recommendation: Don’t talk about Sharia Law because “we are not there yet.” He didn’t argue for an interpretation of Sharia that is permanently compatible with the West. Instead, he advised that Muslims be quiet for now, in accordance with the Muslim Brotherhood’s doctrine of "gradualism."

“Islam is better than democracy. Allah will cause his deen [Islam as a complete way of life], Islam to prevail over every kind of system, and you know what? It will happen.”

“If only Muslims were clever politically, they could take over the United States and replace its constitutional government with a caliphate. If we were united and strong, we’d elect our own emir and give allegiance to him. Take my word, if eight million Muslims unite in America, the country will come to us,” he said in 1992.
Muslims should have a lot to prove Americans about their intentions, not the other way around. And apologists need to do their own research about the origins and intent of this social structure that masquerades as a peaceful religion. And deceivers need to become aware that not all Americans are sheep.

Anonymous said...

I am an American convert to islam that was looking for truth and the oneness of god that attracted me to islam. I don't have all the answers but can tell you this I have learned over the past 13 yrs..
There is a definate element of misogyny and manipulation of people especially thru some of the less than authentic hadiths (sayings and actions of prophet Mohammed). For politcal reasons people twist the faith for selfish gain, cut and paste for their own agenda and don't interpret the ayahs (verses) of the quran correctly for the reason god sent them down thru the angel Gabriel to prophet Mohammed.
For another reason as a product of 14 years Catholic schools education ( which I am very proud and grateful for) that islam says if an imam or sheikh says something that isn't true you dismiss him and don't listen to him.
I think that muslims will never be able to be the peaceful faith they claim to be until they join todays society and use their islamic reasoning in the world of today and not the world of 1400 years ago. The islam of the quran I read at home and the islam that is being practiced by animals who call themselves muslims have no parallels. They are masters of cut and paste and twist for my own benefit but not muslim. Sadly since muslims stick to themselves it is the animals and radicals that are presenting to the world. Until muslims speak out more loudly against what is happening in the world in the name of their religion the only voices that will be heard are the voices of murderers Preaching a message of hate and intolerance.
The Pandora's box of personalities of many people because of my conversion that I have met from the middle east region is a WHOLE separate topic.
I will just say they are a different breed of cat (the dishonest, extremely manipulative, hateful type)
And I thank god everyday I'm american and not them.
Maybe in their own country they appear more hospitable but once you penetrate the outer shell you will find ugliness. I attribute this mainly to their corrupt leaders and horrible system of life that infiltrated these people and the intolerance and just plain stupid stories they pass onto their children to brainwash them out of living in a global collabrative world of today.
My only hope is for the new generation who choses to educate themselves and can live in today's world and still be a peaceloving muslim with everyone else and think for themselves instead of the intolerance that was passed down to them.

Anonymous said...

^^^^Anon 9:58 Kinda sounds like "devout" christians (dishonest, extremely manipulative, hateful, thick-skulled knuckledraggin types) Southern Baptists.... Franklin Graham.

God help us...

Anonymous said...


You're absolutely right. The knee-jerkin, arm-chair-loungin good ol' boy Christians would just as soon have all Muslims die as some sort of perverted penance for the terrorists. The reality is, violent a-holes use religions of all types, including Christianity (that's right Jeffro), to whip people into a hateturd frenzy so that more and more violence is committed and then they try to seize power in the wake of the waves of raging religious violence. Or just feel better about proclaiming their religion is the one true religion and all others are some kind of abomination. The nerve!