Friday, July 27, 2007

Pew Forum News Item: Evangelical-Muslim Dialogue Involves Questionable Partners

The recent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life involves a number of items that touches on Islam. One that caught my eye is titled "Evangelicals, Muslims Start Rare Dialogue." While it is a positive thing to see dialogue between these religious groups, the participants on the evangelical side raise questions as to the appropriateness of their participation as dialogue partners. Here are exceprts from the item as reported in the

July 23, 2007

WASHINGTON - They sat facing each other, 14 evangelical preachers on one side, 12 U.S-based Arab diplomats on the other. Nabil Fahmy, the Egyptian ambassador to the U.S., listened as introductions began, and he found himself amazed."Robertson, Falwell, Youssef. ... I had heard these names before," Fahmy later recounted, "and I have to admit I was surprised they were here.

The initiative launched at that July 2 meeting came as a surprise to many. The evangelical community is known for its support of Israel, and many of its most outspoken leaders, such as Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell, have made incendiary comments about the Muslim world. But in recent months, an unusual rapprochement has begun between these two powerful communities, and the sons of some of those same pastors are participating.


Whether this dialogue will lead to any concrete changes in an increasingly tense environment remains to be seen.

"These interfaith dialogues often take a long time to produce any tangible results," said John Green, a senior fellow at The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. "The evangelicals have had similar dialogues with the Jewish community and with Roman Catholics. The impediments to cooperation between evangelicals and Muslims are much larger, but more understanding could have a much greater effect."


The initiative grew out of a private meeting between Benny Hinn, a televangelist who draws millions of viewers to his dramatic faith-healing campaigns, and a handful of Arab ambassadors this year at the Washington home of Nasser bin Khalifa, who was then Qatar's ambassador to the United States.

At that session, Hinn told Fahmy he would gladly bring other evangelical leaders to meet Arab representatives, and Fahmy volunteered to host such a get-together at his home.'

New generation of leaders

Those who attended included Gordon Robertson, son of Pat and co-host of "The 700 Club"; Jonathan Falwell, whose father, Jerry, died in May; Paul Crouch Jr., whose father, Paul Crouch Sr., founded Trinity Broadcasting Network; and Joshua Youssef, son of Michael Youssef, an Egyptian-born evangelist.

They are part of what is being identified as a new generation of evangelicals with a less confrontational style and a broader political agenda. Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents 60 denominations and 45,000 congregations in the United States, attended the meeting and said it demonstrated the generational changes.


"The idea of a dialogue is extremely good, though there will likely be little impact on Middle East policies," said Aaron David Miller, a Middle East scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center. "The relationship between the evangelicals and Israel is so close that there is very little danger of it being disrupted."

[End article excerpt quotes.]

Not only are the evangelical participants questionable in their participation in terms of their theological depth on knowledge of Islam and interreligious dialogue, but their views related to Israel are problematic as hinted at in the last paragraph quoted from the article above. Indeed, it has been argued by scholars such as Stephen Sizer, that such thinking in evangelicalism represents a form of Christian zionism which he discusses in his book Christian Zionism: Roadmap to Armageddon? (IVP, 2007). While evangelical-Muslim dialogue is rare, and it desperately needs to take place, this void needs to be filled by qualified evangelical participants and this present scenario is frightening with the potential to hamper effective Christian-Muslim relationships rather than move it along in more promising directions.

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