Almost 200 evangelical pastors and Muslim imams gathered to declare their commitment to making peace with one another.
These Christian and Muslim leaders gathered in Baltimore for a Spreading the Peace Convocation in late October.
The evening began with Ed Stetzer, executive director of Lifeway Research, sharing the results of recent polls on how evangelicals view Muslims.
According to Stetzer, 59 percent of evangelical pastors say Islam is dangerous and promotes violence. They agree with Franklin Graham’s characterization of Islam as “a very evil and a very wicked religion.”
It was hard to start on such a negative note. But that is why this gathering was so important.
The convocation was led by my friends Bob Roberts Jr., pastor of Northwood Church in Keller, Texas, and Mohammad Magid, an imam who is executive director of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society Center in Sterling, Virginia, and former president of the Islamic Society of North America.
Both men demonstrated their warm friendship and talked openly about their differences. “I believe Jesus is God,” Roberts said. “I believe Jesus is a prophet,” Magid countered with a big smile on his face. And so it went.
Roberts then interviewed many of the pastors and imams present at the convocation. Their stories illustrated how these leaders overcame their own prejudice to learn how to reach out in love to the other faith community.
We also heard stories of imams in Pakistan protecting Christians from angry mobs numerous times in the last year. It was a positive, upbeat evening.
However, not all went well. During a discussion around my table, one Arab Christian said he loves all Muslims but has serious problems with Islam. No problem so far.
But then he used questions as a pretext to vent his anger and verbally attack the Muslims sitting at our table.
And though Suhaib Webb, a prominent imam, did a good job answering his questions with equal intensity, I was uncomfortable with this exchange.
We should be able to ask hard questions. But how we ask them is crucial.
I am reminded of James 1:19-20. “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires,” as well as James 3:28, which says, “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.”
Thus, according to James, anger does not achieve the righteousness of God, but speaking in a peaceful manner does. I wish my Arab Christian brother would have heeded these words.
Roberts had asked me to speak on a panel at the end of this gathering. When he pointed the microphone at me, I said, “I was saved in the Jesus movement, and we would often point our index finger into the air, indicating that there was one way to be saved – through Jesus.”
I added, “As evangelicals, we are very good at affirming this truth. But we need to study the life of Jesus more carefully. Jesus taught and modeled both exclusive truth claims and inclusive love aims. We evangelicals zealously uphold the truth claims but don’t do as well with the love aims. To deny either truth or love is to deny Jesus.”
The polls about the way evangelicals view Muslims are disturbing. But even if we differ in our assessment of Islam, Jesus’ teaching and example are clear.
As evangelicals, we need to keep sharing Jesus’ exclusive truth claims but also get a whole lot better at living out Jesus’ inclusive love aims.
And as peacemakers, if we sow in peace, we will reap a harvest of righteous relationships.
Rick Love is the president of Peace Catalyst International and author of “Peace Catalysts: Resolving Conflict in Our Families, Organizations and Communities.” A version of this article first appeared on his website and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @drricklove.
Rick Love serves as president of Peace Catalyst International. He has lectured or consulted in more than 40 countries in the last 35 years and has published five books, including “Peace Catalysts: Resolving Conflict in Our Families, Organizations and Communities.”