As the unrest in the Middle East spills over into other Muslim countries, the debate about the controversial film trailer for Innocence of Muslims said to have sparked the protests continues as well. Print and video media have recently linked it to Steve Klein, an individual connected to an evangelical "counter-cult" ministry called Courageous Christians United. This ministry utilizes confrontational approaches with adherents of various religions, including Mormonism and Islam. In the latter they have an affiliated ministry called MuslimInfo.org. The photo above demonstrates the kinds of approaches they use, pointing people to a website in ways that are sure to outrage Muslims.
When news broke about the Courageous Christians' connection to the film trailer the organization's president, Rob Sivulka, posted the following on their website:
We at Courageous Christians United (CCU) had no knowledge of the film "The Innocence of Muslims" or Steve Klein's involvement in it until September 12, 2012. Steve was removed from the board of CCU as of September 14, 2012 because of his involvement in this film. As the founder of CCU, Steve was an honorary board member, but he has never been to any of our board meetings. In 2006, when I wanted to form my own non-profit corporation, Steve gave me CCU, which he was no longer using.I appreciate the lack of direct involvement that Klein may have had with the film, and Courageous Christians' desire to distance themselves from it. But this statement from Sivulka and his organization has me confused. It also appears disingenuous. As demonstrated above in the photo, the organization has engaged in forms of "outreach" to Muslims at mosques by holding up signs that insult Muhammed, the prophet of Islam. They do similar things in Mormon contexts, holding up signs that insult the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith. In each religio-cultural context their has been anger and resistance on the part of Muslims and Mormons. I submit that holding up signs in front of a mosque demeaning the Muslim prophet should be construed as a parallel to the Arabic-dubbed film trailer for Innocence of Muslims which may have at least partially inflamed large segments of the Muslim world. Therefore, how can Courageous Christians pursue the types of activities they do before American Muslims and at the same time condemn a film that functions in the same way among Muslims overseas? Must not the film and the questionable approaches of Courageous Christians be considered "reprehensible and irresponsible, and serving primarily to provoke a violent response?"
Steve was in no way acting on behalf of our mission organization in the production of the video. While both Steve and the film maker have a right to express their views, that doesn't mean that we here at CCU endorse this movie as a good means to convey the truth about Islam. In fact, we find this film reprehensible and irresponsible, and serving primarily to provoke a violent response. (emphasis mine)
In a recent essay at Aslan Media co-authored with Paul Louis Metzger in response to the recent Islamic uprisings we wrote, "What lessons might be learned by Evangelicals as they seek to respond to and interact with the broader religious world, including Islam, in a context that all too easily leads to violence?" As the article continues, among other things, we suggest the following:
Much of the conservative commentary on this event, within and outside Evangelicalism, has emphasized American freedoms of speech concerning the right to share whatever views one might have about Islam. While it is certainly true that Americans have the right to express our convictions, from a Christian perspective our freedoms are informed by love for others; at times, we must be willing to restrict our freedoms for the brethren (1 Corinthians 8) and the world at large. In this instance, it may very well entail restricting our use of our constitutional freedoms for the greater good in the public square here and abroad. With this in mind, we would do well to remember that with the Internet we live in a global village, and the rhetoric, tactics and approval of a controversial pastor or filmmakers can contribute to an international climate of tension that may lead to violence and death in other parts of the world. Simply because we have such freedoms does not mean we must always exercise them; when we do exercise such freedoms, they should be exercised in ways that come down on the side of caution, seeking to contribute to the way of peace for the sake of Americans living and serving overseas, including our fellow Christians living in Muslim lands.The events connected with the 11th anniversary of the worst terrorist attack on American soil provide evangelicals with an opportunity to reflect on our religious identity often formed in hostile relation to those in other religions, and how our attempts at persuading others of our religious convictions might be dramatically less than persuasive, if not offensive and downright counter-productive. For those interesting in considering an alternative vision, see the website of the Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy, and our previous essays touching on this at Aslan Media:
"On the Dearborn Drama: Pig-Headed Engagement of Islam"
"Sikhs and Muslims, Shootings and Burnings: A Call to Peaceful Contestation"