A Response to a Pastor of political correctness
Peace at the
expense of truth.
By Carl Teichrib, FC Editor.
Forcing Change, Volume 2, Issue 3
Note: The following article, developed through a short note sent from a pastor, is an example of how inter-religious pressures are colliding with the Christian witness. I’ve known this gentleman for many years, and I respect his stand for truth and his pursuit of Biblical wisdom. Now, he’s facing an uphill battle against a “Christianized” form Menno Peace.
Frustration is evident in his note, and I don’t blame him. It’s important to keep in mind that inter-religious cooperation for peace has become fashionable across the Christian spectrum, from the United Methodist denomination to the Church of England to various Baptist circles. Therefore, the following article, which centres on the Mennonite community, can easily be modified to fit any number of Christian denominations struggling with interfaith peace overtures.
To ensure anonymity, the pastor’s name, church, community, and country have been intentionally left out. Furthermore, some of his wording has been revised for flow, but the essence of his statement remains. My response likewise has been modified for improved editorial continuity, and I have enlarged the commentary in an attempt to better address the issue.
Definition: A Mennonite “Conference” is an association of Mennonite churches.
Pastor: We just had Conference meetings this last weekend and boy are things going down the drain. Muslims want to dialogue with some of the churches and one of our representatives gets up and says, “Of course, we’re all about peace. Let’s do it.”
Didn’t God say not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers? Didn’t God tell the Israelites not to make treaties with pagans? We’re headed for Hell in a hand-basket. That’s not the worst of it yet. But I won't bore you here…”
Response: Your Conference leadership needs to evaluate this proposition through a highly critical, Biblical lens. In contemplating this potential interfaith chain-of-events, I’ve penned a few thoughts on the subject. As you read this, you’ll notice that much of my analysis deals with the interfaith problem as a whole, rather than to your Conference’s direct situation. The reason is straightforward: the dilemma is philosophically linked.
Although none of what I’ve written below is new to you, I’m hoping that by putting this to paper, it might be of some value in formulating a larger response.
● The interfaith approach is rationally directionless. If all religions are equally valid, then none of them are.1 Therefore, the non-believer can logically reject Christianity as a meaningless sect among many meaningless faiths. By having your Conference form official allegiances with Muslim groups, the Conference has entered into the interfaith arena, complete with its logical dilemmas.
● The interfaith position counters the Christian mission of bringing the good news of Jesus Christ to all. Inter-religious peace bolsters the idea that a believer of another religion shouldn’t be theologically challenged, as this leads to conflict. Likewise, under pluralism, Christianity shouldn’t be contested either. Instead, a type of status quo develops with two predictable results:
1) The Christian witness, that of proselytizing and missions outreach for the sake of the Gospel, cannot be tolerated. This is already occurring where the interfaith movement takes on a political face.
2) It entrenches intellectual, historical, and theological laziness, as Christians no longer have to “contend for the faith.”2 Theological mushiness becomes a standard.
● When church leaders interlock with other religions, the potential to confuse young Christians who are not-yet-grounded is very real. Our liberal-minded universities and colleges already strongly pressure youth to reject Christian beliefs and Western principles. Christian leaders, therefore, have a responsibility to encourage and strengthen these men and women, not to add to the spiritual confusion that already permeates society.
● For the elderly believer, Christian interfaith partnering can be a destabilizing factor. Puzzlement and confusion over long-held beliefs can and do enter the picture. On another front, animosity and/ or apathy towards Christian leaders and churches may take root. In mid-December I witnessed this Christian-back lash first hand. A retired Mennonite lady joyfully told me that her grown children had all accepted the saving gift of Jesus Christ. She then explained how grateful she was that not one of them attends a Mennonite congregation, as the Mennonite community has chosen a path of spiritual ruin.
● When Christian leadership seeks to partner with other religions, schisms occur within the church body as congregations, leaders, and lay people find themselves diametrically opposed with one another. Moreover, pastors who stand firm against official interfaith collaboration find themselves at odds with their Conference and/or association’s leadership. And if the pastor’s own church isn’t willing to back him in countering the official line, then it becomes exceedingly difficult to effectively minister to the home congregation, let alone to contend with the pressures from denominational authorities.
Sometimes, even having home-church support isn’t enough. I am personally aware of such a case: The pastor had the backing of his congregation, who could not in good conscious agree with Ahmadinejad: Iran’s Leader the interfaith path chosen by the denomination’s governing entity. However, because of the legal arrangements between the local church and the national body, the congregation could only watch as the pastor was officially pulled and placed into a meaningless position at headquarters.
I had a chance to speak at length with this gentleman before he moved to his new posting. There was a resigned sadness as he recounted forty years of denominational service, and now, in his pre-retirement years, he found himself being shuffled to a back room in order to be “kept in check.” His local church, which wasn’t happy about the circumstances, knew that they probably had a major task ahead: to Biblically re-educate the replacement pastor, who was being suggested by the national office.
● Finally, the cultural signals sent by Christian leaders who walk the interfaith road compound the ongoing spiritual/social change. Currently, a large percentage of Western adults and approximately 60% of American youth hold to some form of religious universalism.3 To these individuals,
Jesus Christ is no more than a moral man or great reformer, alongside Krishna or Buddha. In their minds that’s all Jesus will ever be, because in the quest for peace, that’s all interfaithism can allow.
It appears your Conference is facing a serious crossroad. Unfortunately, your organization is following a larger pattern of inter-religious/Mennonite assimilation. Consider the following details. In 2004, the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) – the international Mennonite relief and development agency – published a booklet titled What is Palestine/Israel? This book stated that,
“Christians, Jews and Muslims all believe in the same God…Christians, Muslims and Jews call God by different names depending on their native languages, but all of these terms refer to the same God.”4
Theological comparisons between Christianity/Judaism and Islam, however, amply demonstrate that this statement is grossly inaccurate.5
MCC has also been holding interfaith meetings with the Khomeini Education and Research Institute, an Islamic-Iranian institution. Iranian
expatriates in southern Ontario, where one of the meetings was held, publicly compared Khomeini graduates to “Nazi Germany’s Hitler Youth.”6
Ironically, visible demonstrations against this event didn’t come from Mennonite Christians. Instead, Iranians and Muslims in Ontario attended the meeting to protest over the Khomeini Institute’s gross injustices.7 One Islamic scholar who opposed this event went so far as to publicly say that MCC was “dancing with wolves.”8 But Mennonite’s were silent about the affair.
Then in September 2007, MCC arranged for religious leaders to meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the United Nations in New York City. This encounter was “convened out of concern that a deteriorating relationship between the United States and Iran could lead to war.”9
Calling on the President’s “strong religious orientation,” the hope of this meeting was to open dialogue and dissipate tensions regarding Iran’s position in the world. Was this a nice overture? Sure. Will this ultimately mean anything? Probably not.
Why do I hold a cynical view of this faith/political encounter? Heads-of-state are rarely swayed by questions and innuendos from relatively minor religious organizations, and foreign ones at that. I can just see it: Before Ahmadinejad gives the OK to send guerrilla cells into Iraq, or pipe petroleum to Russian oligarchs, he pauses, “I better rethink this. Mennonites in North America might not be too happy with me.”
Sarcasm aside, I do give Mennonite leaders credit in one sense for engaging with Ahmadinejad. They are making an attempt, in their own way, to bridge a gap. However, dangerous waters need to be acknowledged.
First, Mennonites need to be aware of the potential to be used by Iranian/Islamic extremist groups as a propaganda/credibility ploy. This is a long proven technique used by a wide variety of radical religious and political entities.10
Second, and more in keeping with the intent of this letter, is the inter-religious credibility concern. By publicly affirming Ahmadinejad as a “strongly religious person with a strong religious orientation,”11 and by connecting this with a Christian approach, it can be perceived as an equalizing and confirming position regarding Islam. And while the intent behind this encounter may be different, the credibility perception still lingers – especially when many other questionable aspects of MCC/Muslim interfaith cooperation exist.12
Paradoxically, when this MCC/religious meeting with Ahmadinejad took place, one of the church leaders to address the President was the Rev. Karen Hamilton of the Canadian Council of Churches. In case you missed it, Karen is a female. In Ahmadinejad’s Islamic world, a woman would never question the President, or any other male religious/political authority. Such an act would be severely punished under Shiria Law.13
Within Mennonite circles, Islamic connections are not just confined to MCC. As your short note demonstrates, Mennonite Conferences are now considering where they can fit in. Furthermore, Mennonite churches, publishers, universities, and organizations are increasingly finding common ground with more than just Islam: a smorgasbord of alternative religions and spiritual expressions are being flirted with.14 All of this comes around to the quandary raised in your email: the problem of being “unequally yoked.”
When Christian groups form alliances with other religions, it throws up significant spiritual flags. Theologically, one of the primary landmines encountered is the issue of Jesus Christ and His exclusive message of sin and salvation. If all faith expressions have validity, as the interfaith movement ultimately proclaims, then the work of Jesus Christ is suspect. Either Jesus’ teachings were true and His actions factual – including His self-proclamation as the Son of God and His resurrection from the dead – or He was an incredibly proficient conman, or a lunatic who somehow managed to ensnare two thousand years of civilization with a delusion.15 But for someone to say, in 2008, that Jesus was simply a moral person or a great teacher is nonsense. Either we accept His declarations as legitimate and embrace the politically incorrect truth this presents, an exclusive Way that transcends cultures and time, or we concede that the “wisdom” of a madman formed our long-held principles of justice and mercy.
Millions of individuals throughout the centuries, from paupers and lepers to statesmen and scientists,16 have weighed the evidence and made a choice, electing to believe in the salvation message of Jesus Christ. Along the way, hundreds of thousands have suffered a martyr’s death for refusing to compromise the Gospel. For those souls, it mattered not if society viewed their convictions as politically outmoded.
Putting all of this into the perspective of our pluralistic culture, it’s hard to fathom that the exclusivity of Jesus Christ can now blend with the inter-religious paradigm. Logically, in pursuing a meaningful interfaith vision of peace, Jesus Christ must be downgraded, by omission or otherwise, to ensure appeasement. Therefore, when Christian leaders embark on inter-religious bridge building in the name of peace, without openly dealing with the “problem” of exclusive truth, a spiritual fraud takes place, or at the least reckless naivety.
I can hear someone saying; “should Christians then stay away from people of other faiths?” Of course not: Jesus Christ didn’t shy away from anyone. Instead, He met people where they were with compassion, and at times with confrontation.17 Ultimate truth, however, was never compromised.
The Apostle Paul, too, had uncomfortable encounters. One example was in Athens, where he debated with Stoic philosophers and men of other faiths. During this debate, which focussed on the many idols found throughout the community, Paul tactfully employed the city’s culture to demonstrate a more excellent way.18 But nowhere do we find truth traded for appeasement.
At the personal level, I have friends and acquaintances of other religions, and some who are avowed atheists. We visit, we talk, we laugh, we debate, we respect each other as individuals; and we openly disagree on many issues. This doesn’t make us enemies, but it does mean that on spiritually viewed issues, we cannot converge – nor can we present a public face of religious collusion without seriously muddying the waters. But muddying the waters seems to be the latest trend.
I know this response doesn’t cover all the bases, but I trust it has been helpful in thinking through this perplexing issue. FC
1 See “Understanding Religious Universalism,” Forcing Change, Volume 2, Issue 1.
2 See the book of Jude.
3 Carl Teichrib, “Understanding Religious Universalism,” Forcing Change, Volume 2, Issue 1.
4 Sonia K. Weaver, What is Palestine/Israel? Answers to Common Questions (Mennonite Central Committee, 2004), p.32.
5 For a theological comparison from the perspective of a Christian Arab, see the book Islam Revealed by Dr. Anis A. Shorrosh (Nelson, 1988). An interesting website tackling theological, historical, and cultural contextual aspects of Christianity in comparison to Islam is www.answering-islam.org.
6 Jonathan Gatehouse, “You’ve been talking to Who?: Canadian Mennonites have built a bridge to Iranian extremists,” Maclean’s, May 21, 2007, p.20.
7 See, “Protest to Mennonite-Muslim dialogue covered widely,” Canadian Mennonite, Volume 11, Number 13, [http://canadianmennonite.org/vol11-2007/11-13/widerchurch.php].
8 Ibid, p.20.
9 Brenda Suderman, “Building relationships with Iran: Winnipeg’s Mennonite leaders meet with Iranian president,” Winnipeg Free Press, September 29, 2007, p.A5.
10 For the analysis of Soviet peace propaganda strategy and the use of Western pacifists as a tool, see Soviet Foreign Propaganda by Frederick C. Barghoorn (Princeton University Press, 1964), chapter 4. A short explanation of the duping of Western pacifist supporters is found on page 106. Adolf Hitler also noted the difference between “supporters” and “members” as these two groups related to propaganda ploys. See Mein Kampf (Houghton Mifflin, 1925/71), p.581. For a similar approach from the Palestinian position, see the 1968 Palestine National Covenant, which states in part; “Since the liberation of Palestine will liquidate the Zionist and imperialist presence and bring about the stablisation of peace in the Middle East, the peoples of Palestine looks to the support of all liberal men of the world…” For more on the use of Islamic propaganda in its various forms, see the book Never Again? The Threat of the New Anti-Semitism, by Abraham H. Foxman (Harper, 2003).
11 Winnipeg Free Press, September 29, 2007, p.A5
12 Some of this is documented in the report, The Mennonite Central Committee: Issues and Concerns, Expanded Edition, which can be downloaded in the Forcing Change membership section (www.forcingchange.org).
13 For two websites that deal with Shira law and Iranian human rights, see the Iran and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organization [www.ikwro.org.uk] and Human Rights Iran [www.hriran.org].
14 The web-blog, Roll Over Menno, has done an excellent job of documenting and tracking Mennonite interfaith/mystical leanings. See, http://rollovermenno.wordpress.com.
15 C.S. Lewis famously employed this question of Jesus’ compared legitimacy as an apologetics position.
16 For a short book on scientists who were believers, see Henry M. Morris, Men of Science, Men of God (Master Books, 1982/2005).
17 Jesus’ encounters with the Pharisees and Sadducees, important Judaic sects, are good examples where His uncompromising stance resulted in uncomfortable confrontations. See Matthew 23.
18 See Acts 17.
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