Interfaith Ignorance in Excelsis

Due to ongoing reverberations from the June 2016 PCUSA General Assembly where a “Muslim partner” led the gathered Presbyterians in a prayer to Allah seeking their conversion to Islam, newly appointed Stated Clerk J. Herbert Nelson, Jr. has published a defense of the denomination’s position on interfaith relations, particularly with Islam.xny-islam

Entitled “Remembering a Biblical Narrative That Shapes Our Interfaith Commitments: Building Bridges Through Interfaith Work“, this 1400 word document seeks to justify the PCUSA approach of linking together arm in arm with non-Christian (indeed anti-Christian) religions and marching buoyantly into a utopian future where all is love and beliefs don’t matter.

Nelson begins by greeting readers “…in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” But that hopeful start is lost in all that follows. We are led by the title to hope that Nelson will give us a biblical narrative showing how to navigate the minefields of interfaith relations. Instead, we are told to ignore beliefs that rightly separate us and lift instead a common “ethic of love.”

The only biblical text Nelson cites in defense of his view is one he has to misquote in order to justify his stance. In Mark 9:38-41, Jesus’ disciples report to him they had come across a man not of their group who was casting out demons in Jesus’ name. They had ordered him to stop since he was not of the twelve chosen by Jesus. When Jesus hears this, he upbraids them, saying, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me,  for whoever is not against us is for us.” Nelson is keen to show that the key for Jesus is commonality of purpose, not being part of his immediate group. Apparently for Nelson all interfaith groups seemingly have the same purpose, and so are acceptable to Jesus, and should be acceptable to us. Though the biblical text makes clear that the unknown man in question is doing ministry in Jesus’ name, and that Jesus’ rationale for not prohibiting him is that “no one doing ministry in my name can in the next moment badmouth me…,” Nelson incredibly twists this text in order to baptize interfaith cooperation:

“Jesus acknowledges the commonality of purpose between groups of religious leaders other than our own. When the disciples of Jesus reported to him that there were others casting out demons in another name, he responded, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us” (Mk. 9:39–41).” [Emphases mine.]

The problem is, this man is acting in the name and under the authority of Jesus, not from some competing religious stance. Jesus affirms his ministry because it is being done in his name, not in the name of some other religious authority. To use this text for support of interfaith relations, particularly with regard to Islam, a religion that denies the gospel significance of the name of Jesus, is to abuse Scripture in pursuit of a personal agenda. How could the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PCUSA, who should read the Bible more carefully than this, do such a thing? Does he not know the corresponding passage found two chapters later in Luke (11:23): “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters”? But that doesn’t fit too well with interfaith activism.

I think this approach has to do with priorities based on muddled thinking. Nelson makes clear that “binding interfaith communities together” is what inter-religious partnership is all about. Oneness of the whole world community is God’s goal, with ” interfaith commitment as a witness to God’s call for human and religious unity.”

In order to forward the agenda of Christian-Muslim interfaith cooperation, Nelson argues that:

  1. We must not pay attention to differences in belief, but rather operate from a common “ethic of love.” Further, with regard to the “three great religions,” we are bound by a common ancestor — Abraham.
    1. “We who are engaged in interfaith work recognize that it is not categorical theological faith stances or beliefs that bind the interfaith community together. Our bond with one another is bridged by an ethic of love.”
    2. “We also understand the bridge among the three great religions (Judaism, Islam, and Christianity) through Abraham.”
  2. We essentially worship the same God as Muslims, and obey the same commands to love the world.
    1. “Our acknowledgement of the same Creator—who may send different prophets, messengers, and servants at particular times in history—may differ, but love is the centerpiece of God’s expectations for us. Therefore, we worship the same God, but may derive different messages in our reflection, prayer, and meditation.  Furthermore, we agree that any message that is devoid of love is oppositional to God.”
    2. “True Islamic believers of a Supreme Being witness that there is no worship, service, or faith expression unless love is the basis of our actions and relationships—Love for God, Love for Neighbor, and Love for Self are common elements of faith, practice, and worship.”
    3. “However, our interfaith work is held together by love, because both the Koran and the Bible teach a faith grounded in love.”
  3. We must not get hung up on Islamic extremism, because all religions have extremists, including Christianity, and we must get the log out of our own eye before helping Islam get the speck out of its.
    1. “In all faith experiences, we have read and, in some cases experienced, extremism. We have witnessed acts of violence by Muslim extremist [sic]. We have also seen professing Christians engaged in similar actions.”
    2. “We are challenged in this age to differentiate the acts of extremism in all religious cultures, including our own. Acts of non-love leading to killing and other violent and vitriolic actions against another person or group are not measures embraced by any of the three great religions’ (Judaism, Islam, and Christianity) holy books or core faith values.”
  4. Our primary concern with interfaith relations is the common goal of “justice advocacy work,” not the salvation of the world through faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. After all, what is most important is that everyone gets along in a healthy way, whether they actually follow Jesus or not.
    1. “We struggle together to end “Islamaphobia” [sic] and other hate crimes against our interfaith partners.”
    2. “…I acknowledge the contributions of those who witness in the Spirit of Jesus by healing, loving, and standing on behalf of others.”

This document is riddled with errors too important to ignore. Let’s set the record straight on the key faults:

  • Differences in belief lead to strife; an ethic of love binds us together. Therefore we should avoid doctrinal differences and focus on mutual cooperation and love. Yet if as Christians we believe that those who reject the gospel are doomed to hell, how is it loving to put the call to evangelize aside, and simply seek to cooperate to make the world a better place? The apostle Paul in a passage urging reconciliation to God through Christ says about his own motivation for preaching the gospel, “For the love of Christ compels us….” Does not the Christian ‘ethic of love’ compel us to preach the good news to the lost rather than to lock it away so as not to cause offense?
  • Judaism, Islam and Christianity share a common ancestor in Abraham and so we are bound together by the same core religion. treeIn point of fact, Ishmael and Isaac are progenitors of races, not of religions. Very few Muslims can trace their lineage back to Ishmael, only certain groups of Arabs. And of the total worldwide population of Muslims, only roughly 16% are of Arab extraction. The Jews as a race can trace their lineage back to Abraham through Isaac, but the vast majority of Christians cannot (only the tiny percentage who are of Jewish descent). What links Christians with Abraham (and God’s promises to him) is not Isaac but Jesus Christ, as Paul says: “that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Gal 3:14). The religions of Islam and Christianity are identified not by genetic lineage to Abraham, but by belief systems claiming linkage to Abraham’s relationship with God, and in this regard the two religions are in large measure at odds.
  • We acknowledge the same Creator differently, but since love is the centerpiece of God’s will for us, we worship the same God. This is wrong on many levels, but two points stand out. First is the logical inconsistency. If the command to love is what shows we worship the same God, what do we say about atheists who believe human beings are called to love one another; or Immanuel Kant with his “categorical imperative;” or Krishna in the Hindu Baghavad Gita; or Bahaullah; or Baba Ram Dass; or… or… or…? Do we all worship the same God because love is the central command of our respective beliefs? Second, in point of fact, Islam does not teach love as the centerpiece of Allah’s will for Muslims. Rather, obedience to his commandments is central, and among these the spread of Islam by conviction or coercion is paramount. Those who refuse to bow before Allah (“submission” is the proper translation of the Arabic term “Islam”) are not to be loved but to be hated and destroyed, if possible. I understand that for Christians (or even those raised in a Judeo-Christian culture but not believers themselves) this is difficult to imagine, but it is nonetheless true. Here is a selection of relevant passages (I could produce scores more) showing the intolerance of Allah and his followers to unbelievers (including especially Jews and Christians):
    • “And they say: ‘Be Jews or Christians, then ye will be rightly guided.’ Say (unto them, O Muhammad): ‘Nay, but (we follow) the religion of Abraham, the upright, and he was not of the idolaters'” (2:135).
    • ” Lo! Those who disbelieve, and die while they are disbelievers; on them is the curse of Allah and of angels and of men combined” (2:161).
    • And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter….And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah” (2:191, 193). [Note that this command is in force until all religion is subsumed or subjugated under Islam.]
    • “Warfare is ordained for you, though it is hateful unto you; but it may happen that ye hate a thing which is good for you, and it may happen that ye love a thing which is bad for you. Allah knoweth, ye know not” (2:216).
    • Let not the believers take disbelievers for their friends in preference to believers” (3:28)
    • “Those who believe do battle for the cause of Allah; and those who disbelieve do battle for the cause of idols. So fight the minions of the devil” (4:76).
    • “So choose not friends from them till they forsake their homes in the way of Allah [i.e., become Muslims]; if they turn back (to enmity) [i.e., become apostates], then take them and kill them wherever ye find them, and choose no friend nor helper from among them…”(4:89).
    • “O ye who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians for friends. They are friends one to another. He among you who taketh them for friends is (one) of them. Lo! Allah guideth not wrongdoing folk” (5:51).
    • “Lo! the worst of beasts in Allah’s sight are the ungrateful who will not believe” (8:55).
    • “Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due [i.e., become Muslims], then leave their way free. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful” (9:5).
    • Fight against such of those who have been given the Scripture [i.e., Jews and Christians] as believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, and forbid not that which Allah hath forbidden by His messenger, and follow not the Religion of Truth, until they pay the tribute readily, being brought low” (9:29).
    • “He it is Who hath sent His messenger with the guidance and the Religion of Truth, that He may cause it to prevail over all religion, however much the idolaters may be averse” (9:33).
    • “O Prophet! Strive against the disbelievers and the hypocrites! Be harsh with them. Their ultimate abode is hell, a hapless journey’s end” (9:73).
    • O ye who believe! Fight those of the disbelievers who are near to you, and let them find harshness in you, and know that Allah is with those who keep their duty (unto Him)” (9:123).
    • “So obey not the disbelievers, but strive against them herewith with a great jihad” (25:52). 
    • He it is Who hath sent His messenger with the guidance and the religion of truth, that He may cause it to prevail over all religion. And Allah sufficeth as a Witness. Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. And those with him are harsh against the disbelievers and merciful among themselves” (48:28-9).
    • And there hath arisen between us and you hostility and hate for ever until ye believe in Allah only” (60:4) [This is supposedly a statement made by Abraham against his polytheistic peers, which Muslims are to emulate today.]
    • “Lo! those who disbelieve, among the People of the Scripture [i.e., Jews and Christians]  and the idolaters, will abide in fire of hell. They are the worst of created beings (98:6). This is as opposed to the Muslim community, which comprises “the best of people, evolved for mankind (3:110).
    • To sum up, Islam does not teach an ethic of love toward all, but only toward fellow Muslims and those willing to become Muslims. The rest of the world becomes an enemy to be hated, conquered or destroyed.
  • Extremism is found in all religions, so we must discount it as not indicative of any religion. Since all human beings are sinners, it is to be expected that some sinners under any belief system will act out in violent and aggressive ways. The central issue is whether particular belief systems reject or encourage these kinds of behaviors. It is clear that the teachings of Jesus preclude the use of the sword in the advancement of the Kingdom of God. It is equally clear that the Qur’an endorses the use of the sword in the advancement of Islam. While Christian leaders can rightly castigate those who do violence to others in the name of Jesus, Muslim leaders do not have the same warrant based on their holy scriptures.
  • Muslims, and those of other religious groups are our “partners,” since we share a commonality of purpose.  Hence, Nelson speaks of Mr. Said (the man who led the Qur’anic prayer at the General Assembly) as “a Muslim partner.” But a partner to what end? Apparently, our commonality of purpose is to “end “Islamaphobia” [sic] and other hate crimes against our interfaith partners.” Yet if we are really interested in “justice advocacy work,” why not press our Muslim partners to end the persecution and murder of Christians throughout Muslim majority countries? By far the vast majority of religious hate crimes throughout the world are perpetrated against Christians, and in the vast majority of cases the perpetrators are Muslims. Why is the PCUSA not speaking out courageously against Islamic injustice seen in this and many other evils, or does our commonality of purpose end in our bemoaning hate crimes against any religion other than Christianity?
  • God’s “call for human and religious unity” will result as we all act from a common ethic of love. As we have seen already, Christianity and Islam do not share such an ethic.

    “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony”

    But even if they did, the New Testament informs us that fallen human beings will never form such a unity until they are joined by the Holy Spirit in the body of Christ through the reconciling work of the cross. As Paul says in Eph 2:14-16, “He [Christ] is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility…so that he might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross….” Interfaith work on the basis of a fictional ethic of love will not accomplish what Nelson hopes. Only the gospel can do that. So why not devote full attention to evangelism?

    I applaud Mr. Nelson’s desire to foster good relations with non-Christian religious groups. But this must not be done at the expense of truth, nor in a way that subordinates the proclamation of the gospel to the amelioration of social evils in the world. I would hope that before the PCUSA Stated Clerk makes any more pronouncements relating to Islam he will take the time to actually learn something of the belief system of those with whom he wishes the PCUSA to partner.

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If Only ISIS Were Refined, It Would Look Just Like Saudi Wahhabism!

For those who doubt that ISIS has anything to do with Islam, please watch this subtitled interview originally broadcast on MBC (Dubai television) January 22, 2016. It features Sheikh Adel al-Kalbani, a former imam of the Grand Mosque of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. One does not get to a prominent religious position such as that without the bona fides of a top scholar of Wahhabi, Sunni Islam. In this segment of the interview, Kalbani acknowledges that the beliefs of ISIS are taken from orthodox, Wahhabi texts. The one thing that separates ISIS from Saudi Wahhabis is that the latter are more “refined” in their practices, whereas the former are crude in how they carry out punishments for offenses against Shari’a. Apparently, if the methods of execution don’t cause significant criticism from the wider world, then they are okay, but if they cause revulsion and negative publicity, they are wrong. Since the Saudi government beheads offenders in a humane way, and with minimal publicity, its obedience to Shari’a is commendable. Since ISIS’ execution of offenders is intentionally ghastly (boiling in oil, immersing in acid, burning with fire in cages, drowning by lowering cages into water, etc.), even though they are rightly carrying out the judgments of Shari’a, their methods are open to criticism, according to Kalbani. Even so, their doctrines are one and the same as those of the Wahhabis! As the sheikh says in this interview concerning the Wahhabis and ISIS, “We follow the same thought but apply it in a refined way.”

How comforting….

Some terms to be aware of:

Da’esh the Arabic acronym for ISIS. Kalbani acknowledges at the start that Da’esh is a result of Islamic “revivalism,” i.e., a return to the origins of Islam.

Salafism is a movement seeking to reform modern Islam to conform to the practices of Muhammad and the first three generations of his followers (this is based on a tradition of what Muhammad is supposed to have said about those who would be rightly guided in the faith). The Arabic word “salaf” means literally “ancestors/forefathers.” Salafists would be roughly analogous (though not at all like in belief system) to those in US politics who wish to turn the American political system back to the mindset of our “founding fathers,” their writings and practices.

Wahhabi refers to those who follow the conservative teachings of Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab, an 18th C. Sunni cleric from the central regions of Arabia who led a reform movement to return Islam to the purity of its founder and his immediate followers (the salaf). While all Wahhabis fall within the broader world of Salafism, not all Salafis would identify themselves as Wahhabis. (Have I confused you enough by now?)


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Hell on Earth, Courtesy of ISIS

ISIS has shown once again the depth of their depravity through the horrific means they invent to execute those convicted in their Shari’a courts of capital offenses. One of the latest travesties occurred in Mosul where six men were convicted of spying for the enemy, and thus condemned to death. The means of their execution? They were lowered into vats of boiling tar.boiled in oil

It’s hard to believe that human beings would sit around thinking up such reprehensible means of torture ending in death. Certainly practices like this are what lead many Muslims and non-Muslims to conclude that such barbarity has nothing to do with Islam. But radical Muslim groups like ISIS believe Allah calls them to dramatic and gruesome punishments of lawbreakers as a means of striking fear into the hearts of Muslims and non-Muslims alike so as to ensure their obedience to Allah. So in the Qur’an (8:60), Allah commands them:

Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war, to strike terror into (the hearts of) the enemies of Allah and your enemies, and others besides, whom ye may not know, but whom Allah doth know.

Even more stunning, ISIS can argue (correctly) that this particular form of punishment came not from their own ingenuity but from the Qur’an itself. In Sura Abraham (14:48-52) we read:

The day will come when this earth will be substituted with a new earth, and also the heavens, and everyone will be brought before Allah, the One, the Supreme. And you will see the guilty on that day chained in shackles. Their garments will be made of tar, and fire will overwhelm their faces. For Allah will pay each soul for whatever it earned; Allah is the most efficient reckoner. This is a proclamation for the people, to be warned herewith, and to let them know that He is only one god, and for those who possess intelligence to take heed.

If the god of Islam is pleased to use such torture in hell for those who have committed evil by rejecting him and his law, then why should his most-committed agents on earth not find pleasure in using the same means of torture against those who have been convicted in Shari’a law court of treachery against Allah and his caliphate?

It may be objected that according to one Hadith tradition (Bukhari:Volume 9, Book 84, Number 57), the Arabian prophet forbade the use of fire as a means of execution, since that method belongs to Allah alone (i.e., Hell is the abode of fire), and so ISIS is guilty of wrongdoing, from the perspective of orthodox Islam. That may be true. Here’s the tradition in question:

Some Zanadiqa (atheists) were brought to ‘Ali and he burnt them. The news of this event, reached Ibn ‘Abbas who said, “If I had been in his place, I would not have burnt them, as Allah’s Apostle forbade it, saying, ‘Do not punish anybody with Allah’s punishment (fire).’ I would have killed them according to the statement of Allah’s Apostle, ‘Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.'” Zanadiqa (atheists) were brought to ‘`Ali and he burnt them. The news of this event, reached Ibn ‘Abbas who said, “If I had been in his place, I would not have burnt them, as Allah’s Apostle forbade it, saying, ‘Do not punish anybody with Allah’s punishment (fire).’ I would have killed them according to the statement of Allah’s Apostle, ‘Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.'”

My point in all this has nothing to do with whether ISIS can justify its means of punishment on Islamic legal grounds. Rather, I want readers to understand that in this and many other cases, the barbarity of ISIS lies not in their own native depravity but in their imitation of the example of their god as found in their “revealed, inerrant scripture.” If this is the kind of punishment Allah promises he will mete out toward such sinners in eternity, then why not utilize a human version of it now? ISIS is not trying to outdo Allah in striking terror into the hearts of sinners, merely to keep up with him.

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Why the Chronic Imbalance?

I try not to seethe over injustices that I can do nothing to correct, but sometimes I have to vent and pray.

Two days ago, the U.S. State Department released its Syrian refugee resettlement figures, showing that our administration is on target to reach the 10,000 resettled refugees target set by President Obama for this fiscal year, ending October 1, 2016. (Even this target, for which the President has taken some flak for its being too high, is a mere drop in the proverbial bucket — some 5 million Syrians are now counted as refugees by the UN.)refugees So far, 7551 Syrians have been admitted to our shores since October 2015. Well and good. Of those, 7432 (98.4%) are Sunni Muslims, even though before hostilities in Syria broke out they comprised about 74% of the population and faced little to no persecution. Christians comprised about 10% of the population, but have been perhaps the most fiercely persecuted religious groups since the brutality began. How many Syrian Christian refugees has our administration welcomed into this country during fiscal year 2016 so far? 35. That’s less than one half of one percent of the total number of Syrian refugees settled (.46% to be exact)! Of the remaining 84 that we have welcomed in 2016:

50 are Muslims (other)

20 are Muslims (Shia)

10 are Yazidis

3 are “other religions” (undisclosed)

1 is “no religion.”

The last three months (May through July) have seen the bulk of Syrian refugees admitted in FY2016 – it seems in order to reach Mr. Obama’s target, the State Department has cut down the normal 18-24 month vetting period to only 3 months, while still reassuring us that their screening process is relatively foolproof. out of EgyptOf the total 7551 Syrian refugees to have entered the USA so far this year, 5815 were admitted from May through July. Of these:

0 are Yazidis

1 is “no religion”

2 are “other religions”

3 are Shiite Muslims

25 are Christians

27 are Muslims, other

5,757 are Sunni Muslims.

I wrote about this obvious imbalance when May’s figures were released (see here). Since then it has only gotten worse. If the present administration is really interested in accelerating the process of resettling Syrian refugees who will be no threat to the security of this country, the fastest way would be to focus on the two groups which are most heavily persecuted, who just incidentally also happen to be non-Muslim, and hence not susceptible to jihadi indoctrination – the Yazidis and the Christians. For a more detailed rationale behind this suggestion, please read my earlier post.

In the meantime, if you are moved by this injustice, join me in praying to the God who rescued first His people (Hosea 11:1) and then His Son (Matthew 2:15) out of refugee status (“Out of Egypt I called my Son.” flightoftheholyfamilyEven if our federal government remains deaf to cries for justice, the God of all righteousness will vindicate His people.


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Breaking the Spell

Western religious leaders as well as liberal politicians and “westernized Muslim spokespersons” continue to trot out the fabrication that Islam is “a religion of peace” and that violence and terrorism have nothing to do with the real religion. I don’t doubt some actually believe the words coming out of their mouths, but others (especially the Muslim leaders) should be ashamed of their deceptions.

President Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry are all on record spouting this talking point, as are more minor Democratic luminaries such as Howard Dean who last month declared that there is nothing Islamic about Iran and that its religious leaders (who stand at the pinnacle of Shiite Islam) are nothing but thugs and murderers, not true Muslims. His measurement for this determination? “I don’t know Muslims who behave like that who I respect.” To be fair, some Republicans have also drunk the politically correct Kool Aid. Immediately after 9/11 George W. Bush and other GOP leaders rushed to declare that Islam itself was a religion of peace, and that the USA was not and would not be at war with Islam proper.

Most recently (July 31), Pope Francis broke papal tradition (which long recognized the antipathy of Islam toward Catholicism, not to mention the rest of the Christian world) by declaring that “…it can’t be said, it’s not true, and it’s not fair, that Islam is terrorist.” francisA few days earlier, on the papal plane to Krakow he shared the basis for this belief. There is a worldwide war, he acknowledged. “…it’s a real war, not a religious war.” Evidentially it is an a priori truth that no religion engages in war against others. Instead, the cause of this globe-spanning turmoil is really economic inequality and the quest for secular power. In the Pope’s own words,

“It’s a war of interests, a war for money. A war for natural resources and for the dominion of the peoples. Some might say it’s a religious war. Every religion wants peace. The war is wanted by the others. Understood?”

So there it is, in all its stark simplicity — Islam is a religion of peace, because every religion wants peace. End of discussion. Those who claim to be Muslim and are engaged in terrorism are simply abusing religion as a pretext for their real gripes: poverty, powerlessness, social inequality….It can’t be due to their religious beliefs rooted in the Qur’an and Sunnah (the divinely sanctioned traditions concerning Muhammad’s teachings and behaviors). Again, from Pope Francis’s Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), para. 253:

“Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalisations [sic], for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence.” (italics mine).

But, not so fast, say the leaders of ISIS. You Western politicians, apostate Muslims (moderate Muslim leaders in the West) and Christian leaders have misunderstood us, and we want to set the record straight.

So, a few days ago, ISIS released its fifteenth issue of Dabiq, its glossy, monthly propaganda magazine. I’ve just finished carefully reading its 82 pages. Entitled Break the Cross, the purpose of this issue is to deny that the motivations of ISIS (and all “true Muslims,” in its estimation) are economic, social, or political in origin. In fact, they are completely Dabiq-Magazinereligious, based on the Qur’an and Sunnah (the very thing Western leaders vehemently deny). The title, Break the Cross, is based on a widely accepted Hadith tradition declaring that when the Islamic version of Jesus returns, he will disavow Christianity with its cardinal doctrines of crucifixion, atonement and resurrection, and in demonstration of this rejection of Christianity he will break all crosses around the world:

“When the Messiah, Jesus Son of Mary, returns in the end days to battle the Antichrist – the false Messiah – and his army, of the myths he will debunk once and for all are those of his crucifixion and divinity. This will be when he breaks the cross, as was foretold by the Prophet Muhammad, who said, ‘By the One in whose Hand is my soul, very soon shall the Son of Mary descend in your midst, being an equitable judge. He shall break the cross, kill the swine, and put aside the jizyah. Wealth shall flow until no one accepts it, and until a single prostration will be more beloved than the world and all that it contains’  (Al-Bukhari and Muslim).” — Dabiq, pp. 48-49.

Just to be clear, “jizyah” is the punitive tax which the Caliphate allows subjugated Christians and Jews (known as dhimmis) to pay to avoid being killed, living instead as third class subjects under Shari’a law. The triumphant Islamic Jesus will “put aside the jizyah” not out of compassion for these religious minorities, but because he will not suffer any religious minorities to exist any longer. Under his rule, Jews and Christians must convert to Islam or be put to death. The category of dhimmitude will be abolished. Ironically, in Islam it will be Jesus who executes Christians unwilling to recant their Christian faith!

Dabiq-Why-We-Hate-YouIn an article entitled, Why We Hate You and Why We Fight You, ISIS lists six reasons demonstrating the religious basis behind its violence toward the non-Muslim world:

  • “We hate you because you are disbelievers.” Quoting Sura 60:4, which purports to be Abraham speaking against his idolatrous father and tribe [“We are clear of you and of whatever ye worship besides Allah: we have rejected you and there has arisen between us and you enmity and hatred forever unless ye believe in Allah and Him alone”], they believe they are following the righteous example of the patriarch. Likewise, they quote 2:193, which reads, “And fight them until there is no fitnah
    [paganism] and [until] the religion, all of it, is for Allah.” In other words, Islamic war against infidels must continue until the only religion on the face of the earth is Islam.
  • “We hate you because your secular, liberal societies permit the very things that Allah has prohibited while banning many of the things He has permitted.” This complaint has to do principally with Western democracy, which ISIS sees as idolatry — the human attempt to displace Allah and his Shari’a with man-made legal systems, which inevitably deviate from Allah’s perfect will. “Legislation is not but for Allah” (12:40).
  • “We hate you and wage war against you because you disbelieve in the existence of your Lord and Creator.” Unlike complaint #1, which is directed at believers in the false Trinitarian religion of Christianity (America is seen by and large as a “Christian nation” by the followers of Islam), this diatribe is directed against secularists and professing atheists. Two Qur’anic passages are cited in support of this hatred: 52:35 and 64:7).
  • “We hate you for your crimes against the Muslims.” ISIS sees its cause as ending the murder of Muslims by Western forces, stopping the oppression and torture of Muslims by the “puppet” rulers in “usurped Muslim lands,” and taking revenge on the non-Muslim powers for all the suffering of “countless Muslims” at the hands of the infidels.
  • “We hate you for invading our lands and fight you to repel you and drive you out.” The Islamic doctrine of the Kingdom of Allah does not allow for land once conquered to be surrendered to unbelievers ever again (known in Arabic as waqf). Should that happen (as it has in the case of Iberia, the Balkans, Ethiopia, India, Turkistan, Israel…), it is the responsibility of every able-bodied Muslim to engage in jihad to win those lands back. Likewise, when any Muslim land is invaded by infidels, every Muslim is responsible to rush to the defense of the imperiled territory.

The article is quick to correct any potential misunderstanding that ISIS has arisen simply or primarily due to US and European foreign policies:

“…although some might argue that your foreign policies are the extent of what drives our hatred, this particular reason for hating you is secondary, hence the reason we addressed it at the end of the above list. The fact is, even if you were to stop bombing us, imprisoning us, torturing us, vilifying us, and usurping our lands, we would continue to hate you because our primary reason for hating you will not cease to exist until you embrace Islam. Even if you were to pay jizyah and live under the authority of Islam in humiliation, we would continue to hate you. No doubt, we would stop fighting you then as we would stop fighting any disbelievers who enter into a covenant with us, but we would not stop hating you.”

This hateful perspective blossoms directly out of the pages of the Qur’an. Sura 9:153, for example, says: “O ye who believe! Fight those of the disbelievers who are near to you, and let them find harshness in you, and know that Allah is with those who keep their duty (unto Him).”

Yet, ISIS sees one potentially  positive result for the objects of their hatred and terrorism:

  • “…we fight you, not simply to punish and deter you, but to bring you true freedom in this life and salvation in the Hereafter.” Though many will be tortured, maimed, raped, crucified, terrified, and even killed, perhaps such evils mandated by Allah will result in infidels coming to their senses either out of fear or out of admiration for the cold, iron will of the soldiers of Allah who do Allah’s bidding no matter how inhuman it may be. This is the meaning behind a statement found on p. 28 of this issue of Dabiq:
    • “Do not be taken in by claims that the “real jihad” is giving da’wah – rather, the real da’wah is waging jihad! Most of the world is very aware of Islam’s existence and even its tenets, and the time for showing them that actions speak louder than words is ever so present. The blood of the disbelievers is obligatory to spill by default. The command is clear. Kill the disbelievers, as Allah said, “Then kill the polytheists wherever you find them” (At-Tawbah 5).”

Da’wah means literally “invitation,” and would be roughly equivalent to the Christian practice of inviting sinners to come to Christ. In Islam the invitation is to submit to Allah and his prophet. Westernized Muslim leaders may say that “real jihad” is simply inviting non-Muslims to come to Islam. But ISIS is saying the real invitation to non-Muslims only hits home after they become victims of militant jihad!

One last comment. This issue of Dabiq mentions people like me in an almost complimentary way when contrasted with the Pope, liberal politicians, academes and pacifist Muslims! Here’s their statement on p. 31:

“There are exceptions among the disbelievers, no doubt, people who will unabashedly declare that jihad and the laws of the Shari’ah – as well as everything else deemed taboo by the Islam-is-a-peaceful-religion crowd – are in fact completely Islamic, but they tend to be people with far less credibility who are painted as a social fringe, so their voices are dismissed and a large segment of the ignorant masses continues believing the false narrative.”

May the true Lord bring all such sentinels of truth out of the woodwork and imbue them with the credibility needed to keep them from being dismissed to the fringes of society, so that we may break the spell of the false narrative, the already-clanging alarm bells may be heeded, our civilization’s freedoms protected, and the gospel given full right to compete for minds and hearts in the public square of ideas, peacefully and reasonably.

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The Proud Rose That Rejects Its Roots

Inspired by a sermon from Dr. Tim McConnell of First Presbyterian Church, Colorado Springs, yesterday, I’ve been thinking of applications to present-day issues we are facing here in the USA.

The text Tim preached on was Luke 8:40-56, and involves two encounters with Jesus, one nested inside the other. Jairus, a synagogue president, approaches Jesus in the midst of a large crowd and falls to his knees begging for help. JairusHis twelve-year old daughter is near death, and he is helpless to save her, even with all his prestige, power and influence. He asks Jesus to come to his home and rescue her. Jesus agrees to go. While on the way, a poor woman who had been suffering for twelve years with constant uterine bleeding sneaks up behind Jesus, believing that somehow if she can in anonymity just touch the fringe of his garment, she will be healed. She does, and is. But Jesus senses that power has gone out from him to heal someone, and he stops to find out whom. Finally, when it is clear that Jesus won’t budge until the healed person comes forward, the woman confesses her actions and subsequent healing. Jesus speaks tenderly to her, and confirms her wholeness, not just physically, but emotionally and socially. woman-with-an-issue-bloodNo longer does she have to live as a shameful outcast, unable to touch others for fear of ritually contaminating them. No longer is she walled off from the community, nor impoverished by using up resources to treat her chronic condition.

While all this is going on, Jairus has been waiting, no doubt with fear and impatience watching the proverbial clock tick. Then the scene he has dreaded takes place. An envoy from his home appears with the heartbreaking news: “Don’t bother Jesus any longer. Your daughter has died.” But Jesus speaks into Jairus’ looming despair and pulls him back from darkness, “Don’t be afraid; trust me; your daughter will be well.” Bringing Jairus and his wife, and Peter, James and John into the room of the beloved daughter, Jesus takes her by the hand and raises her back to life.jairus-daughter

So much could be said about these encounters, but one point Tim brought out that has stirred my thinking is that though both Jairus and the woman with the flow of blood came from very different positions in life, they both were desperately needy human beings, and Jesus meets them at their point of need. Jairus was well-to-do, highly respected, powerful in his local community, privileged. The woman on the other hand was poor (having spent all her resources on medical help, to no avail), isolated from contact with others, ashamed of her status before God. Yet Jesus treats them both with compassion and dignity. Why? And how does he find the love to minister equally graciously to both these individuals at opposite ends of the social spectrum?

These are critical questions to answer, for our society today is being rocked with racial animus, hatred toward “the privileged one percenters” and the police, divisions between left and right, closed borders or open ones, patriotic Muslims versus Islamic terrorists. In the midst of all our divisions we are finding it increasingly difficult to treat each other with civility, much less kindness and compassion. So how did Jesus do it?

Well, Jesus is Jesus, of course. But even so, he operated according to the mindset he revealed throughout the Old and New Testaments. So first of all, he sees all human beings according to God’s original intentions – as those created in the image and likeness of God, as those bearing God’s own likeness in their capacity to love and be loved, to give and receive, to use their creativity for the betterment of the created order, to bless what is good and to shun what is evil.

Secondly, he sees human beings as fallen, vulnerable, lost and wounded persons due to the effects of our willful separation from God over the course of human history. We are like sheep without a shepherd, harassed and helpless, and Jesus’ heart of compassion goes out unstintingly to all.

So in the case of the poor woman, Jesus does not see her impoverishment as defining who she is, nor her ritual impurity as an impediment, nor her social shame as disqualifying. Instead, he sees a human being, precious because she was created in the image and likeness of God, and he desires to make her whole, as his Father originally intended her to live. As God the Son, he is able to bring about his Father’s will.

Likewise, with Jairus the synagogue ruler, Jesus does not see a powerful man of privilege, a “spiritual leader” who deserves help, one who could maybe scratch Jesus’ back in the future if Jesus helps him now. Instead, he sees a human being, created in the image of God, a man whose heart is crying over the grip death has upon his precious daughter. Jesus sees his need, and seeks to restore hope and health to the family of Jairus, as the Father originally intended them to thrive. As God the Son, he is able to bring about his Father’s will.

The foundation of Jesus’ compassion rests upon the truth that God loves human beings because He created us in His image and likeness. Jesus does not judge our stature on the basis of wealth, skin color, education, gender, nationality, or even creed. In the Kingdom of God, there are no slogans that pit one group against another. No “Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, Green Lives Matter;” no “99%ers vs. 1%ers;” no “privileged” vs. “oppressed;” no Westerners vs. Easterners, and so on.

In the Kingdom of God there are only the lost who have been found, the sick who are being healed, the sinners who have received grace. All human beings, regardless of the labels society may stick on them (rich/poor; privileged/marginalized; sophisticated/unrefined; self-reliant/dependent), are in reality creatures bearing the image and likeness of God, hard as it is to see sometimes. And all of us need the grace of God to heal, strengthen, cleanse and polish that image. As Jesus said, he came to offer deep-seated healing to the human race. The only one who never enter the Kingdom of God are those who refuse to believe they need a physician.

Were we to recover this vision of human nature, we might find ourselves on the same side of the fight, rather than drawing up battle lines against one another. We might be moved to help bear one another’s burdens, as the Bible commands us, rather than stepping on each other in the race to self-centered leisure. We might applaud the signs of God’s blessings in the lives of our brothers/sisters instead of spreading the acid of envy and displeasure over the unfairness of live. In our times of abundance, we might emulate our Father’s compassion for those walking in the valleys of desolation.

But we are a civilization living on the fumes of Biblical truth. We aspire to integrity, generosity, compassion, fairness and kindness, but we have rejected the foundation from which such virtues grow. We are like the rose which loves the scent it produces, but decides it no longer needs the plant to which it is attached. We have severed the branch leading to the roots of life, and now wonder why the “bloom is off the rose,” why the fragrance is fading. wilted.flowersWe bemoan the loss of civility, the rising violence teamed with cheapness of life, the disintegration of our culture fabric, our society’s trivialization of morality and superficial approach to the profundities of life, but when challenged to regraft ourselves into the massive, life-bearing trunk of truth and love rooted in the biblical revelation of God, we turn up our noses with a sniff of sophistication and bluster about separation of church and state. We are ignorant of what we need for individual and national healing, and we want to wallow in our ignorance. If only we could maintain the fragrance of the rose, without need for roots in anything but ourselves.

But we can’t. Only a return to understanding human nature (all human nature) as originating in the image and likeness of God will enable our society to step back from the precipice of treating people as commodities to be used or abused, or as enemies against whom to lodge our grievances and extract our pound of flesh. That would be a start.

But for Christians, those indwelt by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, it doesn’t end there. In my next post, I will share some thoughts on what it means to be one in Christ. Perhaps the Church, at least, will become a more shining light demonstrating to the larger world what it means to love one another in the midst of a diversity blessed by God.


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Teaching at Mt. Hermon

We’ve been on vacation at Mt. Hermon Christian Conference Center, enjoying the beauty of the redwoods and soaking in the great teaching and fellowship available during their summer meetings! (Mt. Hermon, located in the hills above Santa Cruz, CA,  is one of the true jewels among premier Christian conference centers!)Mt Hermon

Wanting to be of help, I offered last week to present a seminar on some aspect of Islam if there was sufficient interest. The staff slotted me in for an hour today, and I chose the topic: “What Drives the Muslim World?” [That title was chosen on Tuesday, far before yesterday’s evil terrorist attack by truck in Nice, France.] Over 75 people showed up.

The focus of my presentation was on elements of the religious culture of Islam which typically impact the Muslim mindset, and how the gospel counteracts these destructive tendencies. After 45 minutes of presentation, we turned to a time of Q&A which officially ended 20 minutes later so conferees could go to lunch. Unofficially a few dozen stayed longer to continue with questions and personal observations.

There is such a hunger among Christians wanting to make sense of what God is doing in the world and how the religion and practitioners of Islam fit into all this. I don’t have all the answers, by any means, but am certainly able to point people in the right direction.

If your church or group would be interested in having me come to speak on understanding and reaching out to Muslims, please contact me and we’ll make it happen!

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