While some in the United States take great pride in declaring America a Christian nation, Muslims in the Middle East view American Christianity as synonymous with hypocrisy, a Lebanese Baptist seminary professor said in a lengthy interview with EthicsDaily.com.
“America today has blurred the lines between its own political and economic interests, on the one hand, and divine justice on the other,” said Martin Accad, academic dean at Arab Baptist Theological Seminary.
Accad said he reacts with “stupefied disbelief” when American Christians and political leaders speak of U.S. foreign policy as just, fair and “doing God’s will on Earth.”
“Muslims, who do not naturally separate religion and faith from the social, political and economic realms, automatically understand American politics as an expression and extension of America’s proclaimed Christianity,” he said. “The whole conflict thus takes on an entirely religious dimension.”
Accad said “It’s going to take a lot of convincing, or rather a lot of demonstration, to the contrary for any Muslim in the world today to be convinced otherwise.”
The Lebanese Baptist leader said when he shares the gospel with his Muslim neighbors he doesn’t invite them to become “Christians.” That is because, “The word in the Middle East has become synonymous with bigotry, hypocrisy and double standard. What I do is to invite them to become followers of Jesus.”
Currently stranded in the United States due to the fighting between Israeli troops and Hezbollah guerrillas, Accad urged American Christians to avoid “deceptive and manipulative political rhetoric.” He also warned Baptists to beware of the harmful impact in the Arab and Muslim worlds of their negative words about Islam.
“Every time a Baptist in the U.S. says something offensive about Muhammad or Islam, these words are reported all over the Arab media,” he said. “They are a cause for deep embarrassment and danger for us. Evangelicals in the Middle East, and especially Baptists, are then accused of being Zionists and enemies of Islam.”
Accad said evangelicals in Lebanon sometimes “get tired of mopping up behind U.S. church statements that are made out of ignorance and self-centeredness.” He called on Baptist churches in America to “educate themselves about Islam and Middle East realities.”
Accad, who speaks this week at a world mission conference of American Baptist Churches in he U.S.A., called on Baptists to stop reading books that arise from paranoia about Islam and said he would gladly provide a bibliography of worthwhile books.
Accad also opposed deceptive missionary efforts in Muslim countries.
“I do not encourage missionaries to take up a ‘fake identity’ as an excuse to preach the gospel in Muslim lands,” he said. “But if they want to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ, they ought to follow his example of the Incarnation.”
Accad said missionaries need to understand Islam from “an insider’s perspective” through study and understanding of Islam and to live among Muslims, experiencing their day-to-day struggles.
Due to the complexity of Islam, he said, “What Christians ought to do is proactively to seek to enter into ongoing relationship with moderate Muslims. Only moderate Muslims can then enter into dialogue with their more radical coreligionists.”
One way to create peace is for Christians to work for justice, he said. From an Arab Christian perspective that is expressed through education, community development and social work programs among “the most deprived.”
“If we look at the Palestinian people alone, who are living in camps by the hundreds of thousands in various Arab countries, they have suffered incredible injustice,” he said. “They have suffered injustice at the hand of Israel that has forced them out of their lands, suffered at the hand of their own leaders that have kept them prisoners of their political cause, and continue to suffer at the hand of Arab governments who will not give them any social or political rights.”
For the recipients of injustice to receive justice will require mercy, said Accad, and for governments to show “deep humility” and to recognize their guilt for causing injustice.
“Sadly, so many of our own churches seem to have become shameful reflections of the unjust, merciless and arrogant policies of our nations,” he said.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.