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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Zealous for the Name of God?

“You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God…” (Ex. 20:5).

One principle that Muslims and Christians share is that the God that they each worship (the Trinity vs. Allah) is a jealous God, i.e., He will not share His glory with another. He rightfully demands the full allegiance of His followers. Equally forbidden is not just polytheism (more than one god) but syncretism (fusing features of separate gods into one and worshiping that amalgamation as the true god). syncretism

Muslims generally even today are very careful about this, refusing to allow their mosques to become places of syncretistic or interfaith worship. They are horrified at the possiblity of transgressing the sacredness of Allah’s unique place of honor, and rightly so if he is indeed the one true God. Here is a case in point:

On July 1, during the month of Ramadan in Selangor, Malaysia (touted in the West as a moderate Muslim country, an uproar occurred during the iftar (breaking of the daily fast) meal at a Selayang mosque. Apparently, a non-Muslim Chinese Malay politician (notice the racial as well as religious discrimination in the reporting) was allowed by the mosque chairman to enter the prayer hall in order to wish the gathered Muslim crowd “Selamat berpuasa” (Happy Fasting!) and “Selamat berbuka” (Happy Breaking of the Fast!). According to official Muslim guidelines in Malaysia, “…non-Muslims are not allowed to step into the prayer area of a mosque or surau in the state to hold any activity.”

Apparently this was such a serious affront against Allah that the clamor reached the ears of the His Royal Highness, the Sultan of Selangor, who decreed that the implicated selayang mosquemosque chairman be sacked (fortunately, since this is such a moderate Muslim country, he was not executed). It doesn’t look like any action will be taken against the non-Muslim involved, though under Selangor law he could be charged with breaking  Section 12 of the Selangor Syariah Criminal Enactment 1995, conviction for which would mean a fine of 3,000 Malaysian ringgits (about $750) or two years imprisonment, or both.

Muslims take their worship space seriously, and refuse to allow it to be defiled by non-Muslims (or even by Muslim women who are unclean due to their menstruation cycle). Their seriousness is meant to show their devotion to Allah and his honor.

Contrast this incident with the one that happened two weeks earlier on June 18th at the Presbyterian Church USA General Assembly in Portland, OR, where a Muslim was not just allowed into Christian “sacred space” as the gathered delegates were worshiping, but was chosen to help lead in worship, and did so by praying not to “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” but to Allah, using the key prayer of Islam (the Fatiha), imploring the Muslim god to guide all the Presbyterians gathered there to the “straight path,” i.e., to Islam.

While the Stated Clerk offered a “non-apology” apology five days later to “any who were offended,” the Presbyterian leadership felt showed no repentance over disdaining God’s jealousy for His own Name. In fact, because of continuing alarm in the PCUSA pews about this event, Mike Cole, General Presbyter of the Presbytery of New Covenant (one of the larger presbyteries in the PCUSA) wrote a letter to his own constituents to quell the unrest. The first line of his message is, “Too much has been made of a prayer offered at the beginning of our General Assembly (GA) by a Muslim Imam.

Can you imagine what would have happened in Malaysia, and perhaps around the Muslim world, if the non-Muslim, Chinese Malay (perhaps Christian, perhaps Buddhist) had been invited to offer a prayer in the name of his god at this Muslim iftar gathering? He and the mosque chairman might not have gotten out of there alive — quite literally. Muslims take their allegiance to Allah quite seriously, and refuse to allow rival faiths to co-mingle in their sacred times before Allah.

One could wish that leaders in the PCUSA were as zealous for the honor of the Trinity as Muslims are for Allah. That certainly was the case once in the history of the PCUSA. May it be so again!

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“No Ado About Too Much”

If you would like to read the article criticizing my posts on the Muslim prayer led by Mr. Said at the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, USA, it can be found here:
Written by Mike Cole, General Presbyter of the Presbytery of New Covenant, it was originally sent out to all the pastors who belong to that presbytery. But apparently the national Office of the General Assembly was so impressed with its arguments that it has decided to send the piece to presbytery executives of all the 171 PCUSA presbyteries across the country, inviting them to make liberal use of it (pun intended). Likewise, I understand that Mike is sending it to the Presbyterian Outlook Magazine to see if they will advance the PC propaganda.
The Presbyterian Layman website and I have been accused by some of a “knee-jerk reaction” to the Muslim prayer affair at the GA meeting. Having been immersed in the world of Islam since my youngest days, I can assure you that is not the case for me. Rather, I would submit that this piece by Mike Cole more accurately fits the description of being “knee-jerk,” since it rallies quickly to defend something which no Christian should defend, and takes no time to examine the evidence itself but merely relies on what others reassure the writer of.
I’m trying to find Mike’s email address to send him my last blog, with the hope that he might modify the false statements in his article before they infect too many readers. But my guess is that he won’t take the time to read my research, or do his own. It’s easier to believe what makes one feel good. If you happen to know him, please invite him to take a look at “A Crooked Take on the ‘Straight Path’.” Thanks!
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A Crooked Take on the “Straight Path”

My last two  blogs apparently caused a bit of a ripple in the world of liberal PCUSA leaders. I learned on July 1 that General Presbyter Mike Cole, executive of the New Covenant Presbytery (whom I have met in the past and found to be a congenial fellow), recently sent an email missive out to presbytery members in response to the stir caused by the worship leadership of a Muslim at the PCUSA General Assembly (GA), and by my interpretation of the import of that Muslim man’s prayer. Likewise, a group of theological liberals in a Facebook group pilloried my comments, complaining that I wasn’t being accurate or fair.

Apparently, my words cannot be trusted for the following reasons:

  • I am no longer a PCUSA minister, having committed the unforgivable sin of pastoring a church that decided to leave the PCUSA for a new denomination (ECO) during my tenure there, and having had my ordination credentials transferred from the PCUSA as well.
  • I am no longer even a pastor at that church, having left it in obedience to God’s new call on my life and ministry. Mr. Cole describes it this way: “His ministry is the conversion of Muslims and he regularly blogs on the evils of Islam.”
  • My perspective cannot be trusted because of my “background.”
  • The clause “lead us to the straight path,” which Mr. Said prayed in Arabic as the opening recitation from the Fatiha, does not mean what I think it does but is capable of a wide range of meanings.
  • Mr. Said would never pray to Allah for the conversion of Presbyterians (or any non-Muslims) because many of the GA commissioners personally met him and he is a nice man. Indeed, Mr. Said is “Exhibit A” of a moderate Muslim whose participation in the GA interfaith service demonstrates his denunciation of violence and terrorism, and opposition of radical Islam. How deplorable that someone like me would speak ill of a Muslim wanting to be part of the solution to terrorism rather than part of the problem.
  • Muslims really love Jews and Christians, because according to one Muslim scholar Mike Cole consulted, “The Quran refers to both religions as good and worthy of following.”
  • The scholar further declared with no apparent irony, “Islam orders us to respect other faiths. We believe that everyone is entitled to choose their faith and belief system.”
  • The clear intention of the Muslim’s prayer was to “…affirm Presbyterians in faith and stand with us for peace and justice and against violence.” My blogs by contrast were shameful, demonstrated by the fact that I would “…choose to twist the intent to be something nefarious and devious.”

The first three claims are ad hominem attacks leveled against me as an untrustworthy source because of who I am. It’s always the sign of weak argumentation to attack the messenger rather than the message. Truth stands or falls on the basis of its own merits, not on the merits of the speaker. Balaam’s ass did not have much pedigree to recommend itself as a divine messenger, but Balaam would have ignored it to his own peril (see Numbers 22:21-34).balaams ass What Mike Cole says about me is true, though slanted. I served as a PCUSA minister from 1982-2000, then as an EPC minister from 2000-2007, and then again as a PCUSA minister from 2007-2013. Since 2015 I have been working in a mission to the Muslim world, seeking to introduce Muslims to Jesus Christ and to warn the larger world of the dangers of Islam as a system of beliefs and behaviors that point away from salvation in Christ and toward eternal destruction. I would hope that Mike Cole, as a fellow Christian, would wholeheartedly applaud that endeavor.

The claim that my background disqualifies my comments as “biased” leaves me almost speechless. It’s true that I was born to a Muslim father, was raised in Saudi Arabia, still have many Muslim relatives, have studied Islam for close to 40 years and have written two books and many articles/blogs dealing with Islam, and am coming from the perspective of having left Islam almost 40 years ago to become a follower of Jesus Christ. That such a background should somehow leave me less qualified than theological liberals who may have read a chapter on Islam in a world religions class, or than a Muslim “scholar” who has a vested interest in presenting the “kind face of Islam” to a skeptical American audience, would be a laughable thought if it weren’t so sad. But such is the way with ad hominem arguments.

The crux of the attack on my views is that I misrepresented Mr. Said’s intentions in his Arabic recitation of Surat al Fatiha, and his subsequent English prayer, particularly the verses (6-7) which read, “Guide us to the straight path, the path of those whom You have favored, not [the path] of those who have incurred Your wrath, nor of those who have gone astray.” In his English prayer, Mr. Said repeated the petition, “Guide us to the straight path,” then further clarified its meaning, “the path of all the prophets: Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac, Moses and Jesus, and Muhammad, peace be upon them all. Amen.”

I observed that in Islam “the straight path” is a synonym for Islam, and that Mr. Said’s prayers were a petition to Allah that his listeners be guided to Islam and away from Christianity, or Presbyterianism to be more precise. But my liberal Presbyterian colleagues clamored that “straight path” is capable of multiple meanings, and my interpretation was wrong. Certainly it is true that “straight path” can mean many things, but in context it has one primary meaning. For example, when I hear the statement, “I pledge allegiance to the flag,” one could rightly say to me, “Well, ‘the flag’ can mean many different things.” After all, there are over 195 sovereign states in the world, each with its own flag. There are also other political and business groups which have their own flags. There are also companies such as Black Flag Insecticides, which use the term as an identifier. So, when I hear the words of the pledge of allegiance, I guess I can’t be sure who or what the pledger is swearing allegiance to….until I hear the subsequent words “of the United States of America….” In reality, the initial words of the pledge of allegiance are so well-known that the natural assumption is that the speaker is a patriotic American citizen. It would be shocking to discover these words being used to pledge allegiance to something else. Such is the case with the phrase, “Guide us to the straight path…” within the Qur’an specifically, and Islam generally.  The following words in the Fatiha clarify which path the petitioner wants to be guided to: “The path of those Allah favors, as opposed to the paths of those who have earned his wrath, and of those who have gone astray.” Whom does Allah favor? The Qur’an’s answer: those who submit to him and who affirm Muhammad as Allah’s final and perfect messenger. Who are such people? Muslims. Who are those who incur Allah’s wrath, and those who have gone astray? Well, in general they are all non-Muslims, but traditionally within Islam these categories have been used to single out Jews and Christians respectively. Just so you know I am not making this up, here is some Quranic commentary on vv 6-7 by Ibn Kathir, Ibn-Kathirone of Sunni Islam’s most highly revered classical commentators:

Concerning v.6, Ibn Kathir writes bluntly, “The straight path mentioned in the Qur’an refers to Islam” (http://www.qtafsir.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=64&Itemid=35).

As to verse 7, he declares, ”

But, help us to avoid the path of those whom Allah is angry with, whose intentions are corrupt, who know the truth, yet deviate from it. Also, help us avoid the path of those who were led astray, who lost the true knowledge and, as a result, are wandering in misguidance, unable to find the correct path. Allah asserted that the two paths He described here are both misguided when He repeated the negation `not’. These two paths are the paths of the Christians and Jews, a fact that the believer should beware of so that he avoids them. The path of the believers is knowledge of the truth and abiding by it. In comparison, the Jews abandoned practicing the religion, while the Christians lost the true knowledge. This is why `anger’ descended upon the Jews, while being described as `led astray’ is more appropriate of the Christians. Those who know, but avoid implementing the truth, deserve the anger, unlike those who are ignorant. The Christians want to seek the true knowledge, but are unable to find it because they did not seek it from its proper resources.

This is why they were led astray. We should also mention that both the Christians and the Jews have earned the anger and are led astray, but the anger is one of the attributes more particular of the Jews. Allah said about the Jews, “Those (Jews) who incurred the curse of Allah and His wrath” (5:60). The attribute that the Christians deserve most is that of being led astray, just as Allah said about them, “Who went astray before and who misled many, and strayed (themselves) from the right path” (5:77). (http://www.qtafsir.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=63&Itemid=35)ibn kathir

For the stubborn of heart, let me direct your attention to the fact that the term “straight path” is used over 20 times in the Qur’an. There is never a doubt that it refers to the revelation of Allah throughout history, the expression of which culminates in the Qur’an. Here are a few of the relevant passages:

  • “And lo, thou (Muhammad) verily dost guide to a straight path, the path of Allah”(42:52-3)
  • “Those who deny Our revelations are deaf and dumb in darkness. Whom Allah will He sendeth astray, and whom He will He placeth on a straight path.” (6:39)
  • “And (He commandeth you, saying): This is My straight path, so follow it. Follow not other ways, lest ye be parted from His way. This hath He ordained for you, that ye may ward off (evil).” (6:152)
  •  “Say: Lo! As for me, my Lord hath guided me unto a straight path, a right religion, the community of Abraham, the upright, who was no idolater.” (6:160)
  • “By the wise Qur’an, lo! thou art of those sent  on a straight path…” (36:1-3)
  • “Verily We have sent down revelations and explained them. Allah guideth whom He will unto a straight path. ” (24:46)
  • “And Allah summoneth to the abode of peace, and leadeth whom He will to a straight path.” (10:25)
  • “When Jesus came with clear proofs, he said: I have come unto you with wisdom, and to make plain some of that concerning which ye differ. So keep your duty to Allah, and obey me.  Lo! Allah, He is my Lord and your Lord. So worship Him. This is a straight path.” (43:63-4) and
  • “Lo! Allah is my Lord and your Lord, so worship Him. That is a straight path.”(3:51) [Note: Even the Qur’anic Jesus is a true Muslim!]
  • “He [Satan] said: Now, because Thou hast sent me astray, verily I shall lurk in ambush for them on Thy Straight Path.” (7:16)
  • “Whereby Allah guideth him who seeketh His good pleasure unto paths of peace. He bringeth them out of darkness unto light by His decree, and guideth them unto a straight path. They indeed have disbelieved who say: Lo! Allah is the Messiah, son of Mary…” (5:16-17)
  • “And then We should bestow upon them from Our presence an immense reward, (67) And should guide them unto a straight path. (68) Whoso obeyeth Allah and the messenger, they are with those unto whom Allah hath shown favour…” (4:67-8)
  • “Lo! We have given thee (O Muhammad) a signal victory, that Allah may forgive thee of thy sin that which is past and that which is to come, and may perfect His favour unto thee, and may guide thee on a straight path…” (48:1-2)

Because of these and many other similar passages, Western Islamic scholar John Esposito, darling of the liberal intelligentsia, wrote an introduction to the religion of Muhammad in 2005, entitled Islam: The Straight Path (OUP). Only the willfully blind at this point could mindlessly bellow that “the straight path” of 1:6 has nothing to do with Islam, and the petition before “unbelievers” has nothing to do with seeking their conversion before Allah.

The claim that Mr. Said is a nice man, and therefore would never seek the conversion of non-Muslims, is a non sequitur. Indeed,  a nice person who truly believed that Islam was the sole pathway to heaven would do everything in his power to lead non-Muslims to submit to Allah. Anything else would be the height of unkindness. I have nothing against Mr. Said seeking to convert non-Muslims to Islam — it’s what I would expect of a devout Muslim who has the courage of his convictions. I also have nothing against Mr. Said as a moderate Muslim (if he indeed is) wanting to stand against radical Islam and its violent terrorism. That would be a good thing, if indeed his presence at the GA accomplished anything in that direction. My problem was not with Mr. Said, but with the GA leadership and their wrong-headed thinking which caused  them to invite an anti-gospel proponent to lead a Christian assembly to worship the Trinitarian God (whom Mr. Said as a good Muslim rejects).

The Muslim scholar that Mike Cole consulted very carefully tells only part of the story in his claim that Judaism and Christianity are good and worthy of following, and that Islam respects other faiths and the freedom of all to choose their beliefs. In reality, Islam claims that Judaism and Christianity were truly revealed religions before being corrupted by their followers, and that only Jews and Christians who now bow before Allah and accept the revelation of Muhammad, i.e., become Muslims, are true believers. The Qur’an declares, “The religion of Allah is Islam” (3:19). Those who reject Islam are unbelievers. Allah directs Muslims to “slay unbelievers wherever you find them…” (9:5), “make war against those who have been given the Scriptures (Jews and Christians) who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, and who 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” (Surah 9:29). The Qur’an declares, “Lo! those who disbelieve, among the People of the Scripture and the idolaters, will abide in fire of hell. They are the worst of created beings” (98:6). It describes how Muslims are to treat those who reject Islam as follows: “Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and those who are with him are severe against disbelievers, and merciful among themselves” (48:29). Such words are not imputed to Islam from outside but understood by Muslims to be the eternal, unchanging truths of Allah.

As to the claim that Islam champions freedom of religion, the declaration of 2:256 that “There is no compulsion in religion,” gives way in later revelation to 8:39 (the sura known as “Spoils of War”) with the command, “And fight them until there is no fitnah [rebellion, persecution] and [until] the religion, all of it, is for Allah. And if they cease – then indeed, Allah is Seeing of what they do.” There is not much doubt that Allah’s goal is not freedom of belief but rather suppression or eradication of belief against Islam. Even further, the act of apostasy (leaving Islam) is punishable by death (according to all the Islamic schools of law). Muhammad says in the Hadith, “Whoever changes his religion (i.e., leaves Islam), kill him” (Bukhari 84:57; 52:260; 89:271; etc.).

Lastly, contrary to the words of Mike Cole, I find no clear intention in Mr. Said’s prayers to “…affirm Presbyterians in faith and stand with us for peace and justice and against violence.” Indeed, the very fact that he “went off script” indicates to me that his purpose was not simply to affirm Presbyterians in faith, but rather to present his own Islamically-minded prayers to Allah before reciting the printed liturgy (which he also modified orally in one place as an attack on those “bigots, hateful and Islamophobes” toward Muslims). Also, contrary to Mr. Cole’s assessment, my blogs had no intent to twist Mr. Said’s prayers into something nefarious and devious, but only to point out their true import. If there was anything nefarious or devious in this GA debacle, it had nothing to do with Mr. Said but rather with the intent of the Presbyterian leaders who crafted this ill-conceived worship event and invited Mr. Said to participate.

Interested parties will have to draw their own conclusions.

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Gradye Parsons and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Apology

Two days ago I reported on the travesty which occurred last Saturday in Portland at the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA. Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons had asked some of his denominational employees to fashion a short worship service to commemorate the lives of shooting victims in Charleston and Orlando, and it was the first agenda item on the docket for Saturday afternoon. parsonsThe leadership deliberately designed this service not simply as an ecumenical affair (inviting leaders from other Christian denominations to help lead) but also as an interfaith event (inviting one leader from an anti-Christian religion — Islam).

Not surprisingly, the Muslim man, Wajdi Said, led the assembly  in a prayer in Arabic from the Qur’an,  and then proceeded to speak a prayer to Allah in English seeking the conversion of all there to Islam, and demoting Jesus to a status equal to other prophets, including non-biblical ones (Ishmael and Muhammad). The final part of the liturgy he read was something he, together with the denominational designers, must have created — it was a prayer based on four passages from the Qur’an (there was nothing recognizable from the Bible), and was in printed form as well as projected on screen for the assembly.

There was no visible negative reaction from the assembly, but a few days later the Stated Clerk received a protest letter written by a Korean Presbyterian and signed by 25 Assembly commissioners ( just under 5% of the 594 registered commissioners), drawing attention to the disgraceful judgment of those who had planned and permitted this act of casual blasphemy.

On Wednesday afternoon, Parsons read what has billed as an apology concerning the matter (the apology begins at the 2:44:54 mark of the linked video). It was carefully scripted, intending to ease hurt feelings without accepting any responsibility. Even the timing seemed planned to convey disdain for those who’d lodged the protest. At the end of business, just before the dinner break, the moderator called for announcements as commissioners were packing up. She turned things over to the Stated Clerk, who first announced that colorful ribbons could still be attached to prayer nets around the plenary hall. Then he gave directions for the community dinner about to start in the Portland Room. Then he paused, and without a word of introduction or explanation launched into the reading of his prepared statement as a final announcement:

“During the interfaith prayer service on Saturday in response to the killings in Charleston and Orlando, a prayer was offered that went beyond what had been scripted. It was an offense of the head, not of the heart; it came from one seeking to be authentically gracious, as part of the healing service. Some commissioners found it offensive. When in relationship with people of other faiths, sometimes we can inadvertently be offensive when meaning to be sensitive and ecumenical. It was never the intention of the one offering the prayer to offend any of us. Nevertheless, we offer an apology to all those who were offended.”

What is wrong with this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad apology? Where do I begin?

First, the fact that this statement was relegated to the obscurity of announcements at the end of the afternoon, when the least number of listeners would be there, without any advance notice or introduction, shows the lack of importance this matter held in the Stated Clerk’s mind. It is an silent snub of the protesters, disdainful of their viewpoint.

Second, either out of ignorance or intentionally for reasons of obfuscation, Gradye seems to equate “interfaith” and “ecumenical,” but the latter deals with relations among those of the same faith, whereas the former deals with relations among those of different faiths. By doing this, he hides the fact that he and his team concocted the plan to allow a follower of Allah to lead Presbyterians in a prayer dishonoring to the Trinity.

Third, in this “apology,” you’ll notice that Gradye never mentions exactly what the offense was, only that the one who prayed “went beyond what was scripted.” The implication is that if only he had stuck to the script, everything would have been all right. Is he really so spiritually tone-deaf as not to realize that inviting a Muslim, or any follower of a different god, to lead Christians in worship, is just plain wrong from a biblical point of view, regardless of the script followed? He never admits that his team came up with this idea, and didn’t see anything wrong with it.

Fourth, he exempts Mr. Said from any serious blame by saying he was trying to be authentically gracious, and that this was an offense of the head, not of the heart (whatever that means). I suppose by this Gradye is saying that when Mr. Said prayed to Allah that all the assembly be led to the “straight path”, thereby becoming Muslims, he really believed this to be the best option for Christians (who otherwise will end up in hell according to Islam), so he was being both authentic and gracious as a Muslim.

Fifth, when Gradye reports that only “some commissioners” found this situation offensive he implies there is room for doubt as to whether any transgression really occurred — perhaps it was just in the minds of the “super-sensitive” that a wrong happened, and ruffled feathers can be smoothed with some conciliatory words. But in fact, the true implication is that if most commissioners did not find this offensive, then indeed as Marcellus says in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” The PCUSA has much greater problems than one instance of blasphemous outrage at a General Assembly.

Lastly, and most egregiously, Gradye places the focus of blame upon Mr. Said. although he essentially excuses him by implying that “Muslims do what Muslims do — what else would you expect? He meant well, after all.” By doing this, he shifts attention away from his own wrongdoing of approving the invitation in the first place, and appears magnanimous in offering an apology on behalf of the misguided Muslim. And what is the apology? “We regret that you felt offended,” not, “We repent for having done something truly offensive to God and to His believing family.”

When I heard Gradye’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad apology, I couldn’t help remembering the golden calf incident in Exodus 32. Moses is up on Mt. Horeb receiving the 10 Commandments, and he’s been gone a long time. The people of God have grown impatient and turn to Aaron, Moses’ older brother. “Where is the God of Moses? Make for us a god we can see and believe in, who will lead us into a good future — to that god we will give our allegiance and worship.” So Aaron collects their gold and melts it, fashioning a gold calf and presenting it to the people, who respond with enthusiasm. Aaron is so moved by their joy over his leadership that he declares the next day will be a “feast to the Lord.” Meanwhile, on Mt. Horeb Yahweh is watching, and His wrath begins to burn white hot. He sends Moses back down the mountain, and when Moses sees the golden calf and the revelry of the people, and Aaron’s self-satisfaction, he confronts his brother with his own white hot anger. “What did this people do to you that you have brought a great sin upon them?” Aaron responds first by blaming the people, and then blaming the golden calf: “You know this people, how their hearts are evil. They came to me and said, ‘Make us gods to lead us forward.’ So I had them give me their gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out popped this calf.” The_Golden_Calf

Can you imagine what would have happened if Aaron had tried to further justify himself by saying to Moses, or to Yahweh, “Hey, the people meant well. This was only an offense of the head, not the heart. We were just trying to be sensitive and ecumenical. But if you were offended, we regret that we hurt your feelings”? I imagine that there would have been no further references to Aaron in the Bible, either dispatched by Moses or incinerated in the fiery wrath of God.

I pray for Gradye and the rest of the PCUSA leadership that they will jettison their terrible, horrible, no good, very bad apology, and bow before God in full repentance, following that up with a public confession of their wrong-headedness and the assurance that they will never treat the glory of the Lord so cavalierly again.


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“Wide Is the [Straight] Path…”

The Presbyterian Church USA has hammered one more nail into its own coffin — one wonders whether there is space for any further nails. Last Saturday, at the opening business session of its 222nd General Assembly in Portland, OR, oregon_convention_center_horizontalthe denominational leadership orchestrated an event which denied the gospel and lordship of Jesus Christ. Here’s what happened.

The Stated Clerk had asked the staff of the Ecumenical and Interfaith Ministries of the PCUSA to create a liturgy of repentance/remembrance for the recent victims of gun violence in Orlando (and last year in Charleston, SC) as the first order of business for the GA. It was predictably leftist in its political emphases, with no wrestling over the impact of radical Islam, which was to be expected. ga222Indeed, as a token sign of its expansive tolerance, a Muslim was invited to participate in leading this liturgy. His name is Wajdi Said, president of the Muslim Educational Trust in the Portland area.

When it was his turn to lead, Mr. Said began by chanting in Arabic, most but not all of which was translated into English on the screen for the ignorWajdi_Finalant participants. Hardly anyone there, I’m guessing, had any idea where the words Mr. Said chanted came from. The first sentence was not translated — apparently, Wajdi threw that in on his own. This is what he said: “I seek refuge with Allah from Satan the accursed.” Within the Muslim world this is a common interjection when one fears the presence and power of evil spirits. Since Islam teaches that Christians and Jews who reject the claims of Muhammad are the vilest of creatures, under the sway of Satan, it is not surprising he would begin with this intercessory prayer for himself. Apparently, he need not have worried.

The remainder of his Arabic chanting was the most well-known chapter of the Qur’an, the Fatiha, which observant Muslims recite a minimum of seventeen times a day. Often called “the Mother of the Qur’an,” this chapter composed of seven verses, is a prayer to Allah. Its main request is that the petitioner be led on “the straight path,” that is, the path revealed through Muhammad, and not be misled on the paths either of those who have incurred Allah’s wrath (popularly understood to refer to the Jews), or of those who have gone astray (popularly understood to mean the Christians). So here at the start of the business of the PCUSA General Assembly is a Muslim man praying to the Allah of the Qur’an that the gathered delegates be led to Islam and away from the cursed Jews and the wayward Christians. What an uplifting way to begin the national meeting of a denomination once faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ….

After he finished this chanted prayer of Islam, Mr. Said then spoke a seemingly extemporaneous prayer in English seeking blessing, where he once again invoked Allah’s power to “…lead us to the straight path, the path of all the prophets, Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac, Moses and Jesus, and Muhammad, peace be upon them all. Amen.” To the untrained theological ear, this may sound somewhat innocuous. But in his prayer Mr. Said made three bold claims antithetical to the gospel:

  1. Praying to Allah (a god different from the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ), he was pleading that the Presbyterians gathered there would be converted to the straight path, i.e., become Muslims. That is the definition of chutzpah, to use a Yiddish term.
  2. He revealed the Islamic belief that all true prophets were in fact Muslims, i.e., believers in the straight path that Muhammad taught. In other words, there is no plan of salvation that God is unfolding, pointing to the coming of a Messiah for the world, but only a static message which prophets have been repeating unchanged from the time of Adam, the message of surrender to Allah and his will, to be rewarded or punished for eternity depending on how well or poorly you please him.
  3. Jesus is only one among these numerous prophets. To be sure, he has high ranking in the prophetic pantheon, but like all the rest he is only human.According to Islam,  Jesus is no mediator between God and humanity, he has no divine nature, he did not die for the sins of humanity, he was not raised from the dead, he did not open the way for the Holy Spirit to indwell and transform human beings into his likeness, he is not the Lord and Savior of humanity.

But Mr. Said was not finished. The remainder of his liturgy, printed and projected on the screens, was apparently written by him and vetted by the PCUSA staff. He read it, with a few ad libs based on the original Qur’anic texts from which the material was taken. Here’s a breakdown of the readings which he led for the GA:

“In the name of Allah, the beneficent, the merciful: Let us praise the Lord of the universe who….” This comes directly from the Sura 1, the Fatiha, which opens with “In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. All praise belongs to God, Lord of the Universe…” (1:1-2).

“who has created us and made us into tribes and nations, that we may know each other, not that we may despise each other. Incline towards peace, and trust in God, for the Lord is the one who hears and knows all things.” This is a conflation of two verses from the Qur’an: “O mankind! We have created you male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another…. Verily, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware” (49:1), and “And if they [the unbelievers] incline to peace, incline thou also to it, and trust in Allah. Lo! He, even He, is the Hearer, the Knower” (8:61). Interestingly, the GA text left out the phrase from the Qur’an “male and female,” but Mr. Said added that in as he read out loud. I’m guessing the PCUSA leadership didn’t want to be accused of “gender binarism” but Mr. Said hasn’t yet learned that latest quirk of political correctness, so he quoted the Qur’an faithfully.

“And the servants of God most gracious are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when we address them, we say ‘Peace.'” Sura 25:63 is the source for this: “And the servants of (Allah) Most Gracious are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, they say, ‘Peace!'” Note the difference at the end. The Qur’anic text focuses on how the servants of Allah (i.e., faithful Muslims) are to respond when the ignorant verbally demean them — they are to respond with words of peace. Mr. Said understood this, because he “ad-libbed” at this point, saying, “…when the bigots and hateful and Islamophobes address them, they say ‘Peace….” Who are the ignorant, according to Mr. Said? Those who are opposed to Islam. This apparently flew completely over the heads of the Presbyterian creators of this liturgy, who tried to turn this Qur’anic verse into a demonstration of our own peaceful approach to the Muslim world.

The following facts should lead members of the PCUSA to indignation and outrage at the theological incompetence and infidelity of their leadership:

  • a practicing Muslim is invited to lead the worship of Christians
  • he invokes the name of Allah in Islamic prayer, and prays the anti-Jewish, anti-Christian prayer of the Fatiha
  • he asks Allah to convert the assembly
  • his prayer implicitly denies biblical  salvation history pointing toward the culmination of the Incarnation of God the Son into this world for our salvation
  • he disparages the person of Jesus by demoting him as “one of the prophets” without any corrective from Christians present
  • the liturgy he leads is woven from Qur’anic passages, with no Biblical input
  • so far there has been no clamor from the assembly or apology from the podium for allowing this to transpire.wide the road

Many liberal Presbyterians have castigated evangelicals for leaving the denomination over the diminished place accorded Jesus in the life of the PCUSA. The theological left says this is nonsense, that the PCUSA still stands for the unique lordship of Jesus, and for the truth that salvation is uniquely through him. But if the denomination lets stand this travesty, they will show once and for all that their words have no meaning.

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the path is easy1 that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the path is hard that leads to life, andithose who find it are few” (Mt.7:13-14).

“On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’….and I will say to them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you workers of lawlessness'” (Mt. 7:21-23).

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Presbyterian Dhimmitude

“Dhimmitude” is a word coined from the Arabic “dhimma” which is a technical term in Islam referring to a “protective contract” between the Muslim rulers of an Islamic state and the conquered non-Muslim peoples now living in Islamic lands. Of all conquered peoples, only a subset qualify as dhimmis — those who were monotheists (e.g., Jews and Christians) and who refuse to become Muslim by belief. Other disbelievers, whether polytheists, agnostics or atheists, have no such option: they must convert to Islam or be put to death.islamfordhimmis1-vi

Muslim historians point to the existence of dhimmis in Islamic lands as a sign of Islam’s native tolerance. (Of course, they say very little about the intolerance of beheading those who don’t qualify for dhimmitude). Nevertheless, the historians say, the dhimmis are a “protected class” in Muslim societies. They are not citizens with rights equal to Muslim men; nor are their rights equal even with those of Muslim women. They are in effect third-class non-citizens of the land. But they are guaranteed protection against loss of possessions or life. This sounds very laudable, until one asks, “Protection from whom?” The answer is, “Protection from Muslims and the Islamic state.” That is, as long as dhimmis obey the rules set out for them, show themselves submissive to Muslim domination and pay their annual “protection money” (known in the Qur’an and Muslim world as “jizya” (see Qur’an 9:29), they are guaranteed protection from those ruling over them. This is all very reminiscent of stories of neighborhoods without any significant problems until the Mafia moves in, and its enforcers come to the neighborhood shops and tell the owners that they are there to guarantee the store’s safety, and simply need to collect some “protection money” from their new clients. “Why? We haven’t had any problems. Who do we need to be protected from?” The answer: “From those who might bust up your store, or set it on fire, or break your knee caps.” Who would do such a thing?” “You don’t want to know. Just pay us, and we won’t be back for any unpleasant visit….”

The dhimmi in Muslim lands quickly learn how to be subservient, because to step out of line is to lose “protection,” i.e., to face the forces of jihad and become targets of death. Here are some of the typical rules under which religious minorities must live in dhimmi-enforcing countries:

  • pay the annual jizya  (an excessive tax often collected during an official occasion involving rituals of public humiliation)
  • must wear special clothing (often demeaning in appearance) in order to distinguish dhimmis from Muslims
  • may fix houses of worship that are in disrepair, but may not expand them; no new churches, temples or synagogues may be built
  • such houses of worship may not have features exceeding the height of the nearest mosque
  • public display of crosses on the exterior of churches or homes is forbidden
  • no public processions, no public singing/chanting, no bell-ringing for religious holidays
  • worship may only happen within private houses or houses of worship — may not be so loud as to be audible outside the walls
  • private prayer and reading of Scripture may not be done out loud if in the possible hearing of a Muslim
  • may not engage in evangelism or proselytizing
  • may convert to Islam (if not against the financial interests of the Islamic state), but a Muslim may never convert from Islam
  • if riding, must dismount from donkey (dhimmis may not own horses or camels) when approached by a Muslim on foot
  • must pass by Muslims on their left (the side of dishonor)
  • must give right of way to Muslims
  • must give food and shelter to Muslims when asked
  • may not print, display or distribute religious material publicly
  • dhimmi men may not marry Muslim women, but Muslim men may marry dhimmi women
  • may not hold a job in private or governmental sectors having authority over Muslim employees or citizens
  • may not own weapons for self-defense, nor join the national army except in times of national emergency, at which time they are viewed as mercenaries until threat is over
  • may not testify in a court of law against a Muslim; testimony may be accepted only in cases involving other dhimmis
  • must obey entirety of Shari’a law, except where personal, religious allowances are permitted
  • must not criticize Muhammad, the Qur’an, Allah or Shari’a, under penalty of deathdhimmi-cartoon-2

It doesn’t take much imagination to understand why the indigenous dhimmi populations in Muslim-conquered countries have dwindled through emigration over the centuries, nor why those dhimmis who have chosen to stay in place tend to display docile, even servile behavior toward their “masters.” Some even develop sycophantic tendencies, praising their Muslim dominators and assuring the outside world as to how happy they are living in such a tolerant environment, much like those with “Stockholm Syndrome” praised their kidnappers in public statements, showing solidarity with the aims of their captors.

With this in mind, as I watch what is going on in the Presbyterian Church USA, my former denomination, I can’t help but see some parallels in how the denominational power structure is treating those under its sway. Much as with the Muslim governors holding all the cards in relation to the dhimmis, so the liberal PCUSA leadership, flush with authoritative decisions over the evangelicals within its ranks, is flexing its muscles to push for even more liberal policies to redefine Christianity into something completely unrecognizable to the founders of the Reformation like Luther and Calvin, while at the same time making it harder and harder for long-suffering evangelical congregations, who now wish only to leave peaceably, to do just that.

Yes, the rule book says, congregations have the right to leave, but only if they are properly dismissed by the denominational authority over them, their presbytery. Every presbytery has been passively “urged” by the national leadership to come up with “gracious dismissal policies” that they follow for any all churches under their purview who wish to leave. Some presbyteries have, others haven’t. Congregations are to negotiate with their presbyteries as to what “gracious dismissal” looks like. But “negotiation” implies that both parties have equal footing, and this is of course not the case. The denomination sets all the rules. It whines plaintively that the rule book, the Book of Order, has this unfortunate statement in it (“Gee, we wish it wasn’t there, but heck, we’re bound by it since it is…”) known as the “Property Trust Clause,” which declares that any and all property, real and otherwise, which a local congregation owns, it really doesn’t own. In reality, it is just a steward of all this wealth, which its members have given over generations, and it holds it all in trust.

Well, that’s a very biblical teaching. All that we have does not in the end belong to us — we are stewards in service to the true owner. And that true owner is, of course, Jesus Christ. No, wait! That’s not right. That’s not what the property trust clause of the Book of Order of the PCUSA says. All that congregations have is held in trust for “the use and benefit of the PCUSA.” So if you are a congregation wanting to leave the PCUSA, you are stealing from the denomination if you think you can just leave with your property. You must negotiate.

Of course, a gracious presbytery could easily say to you, “We’re sorry you feel God is calling you to relocate to a different wing of His Church universal, but we understand your position, and as Christian brothers and sisters, we want to bless you in your witness for God. So therefore, we will release you together with your property, with no strings attached. You need not pay us anything.”

No, wait. That once was possible, but now those who hold all the cards have ruled through the PCUSA’s highest court (GAPJC) that a presbytery must take into account the financial worth of a local congregation and “…duly consider the economic interests of the PC(USA).” After all, the court ruled, presbyteries have a fiduciary duty to extract their pound of flesh from fellow Christians over whom they hold all the power. “Gosh, if it were up to us, we’d let you go scot free, but, (cue the violins), we are under orders to put the screws to you so we have money to pass up the line to our corporate Shylock.”

Besides, the denomination is telling evangelicals that they are really, really, really valued in the PCUSA. “We don’t want you to go. We are stronger for having your voice at the table in our big tent community. dhimmitudeHaving said that, please don’t speak against our agenda. We want to pass our pro-gay, pro-amoral inclusion-driven, pro-liberal social action, pro-lowest common denominator world religion policies that we can, so please show up when we pass these new rulings, smile and nod, and make sure to bring your wallets. We love you evangelicals!”

Like many indigenous dhimmis who reluctantly fled their homelands due to relentless Islamic oppression, many evangelicals after decades of trying to bring sanity back to the PCUSA have finally packed up with sadness and left their denominational homeland, often at great personal and congregational cost. Others have opted to remain in PCUSA dhimmi status. Some of these, unlike true Muslim dhimmis, remain with hopes that they may be able to overturn to oppressive system and bring it into line with  God’s will. May the Lord reward their efforts. But others, evangelicals and conservatives, even some moderates, remain because they have decided that maybe the life of dhimmitude isn’t really so bad. Sure we have to make huge concessions, and we are not happy with the denominational proclamations made in our name, but on the whole, the cost of confronting the liberal powers that be would be too expensive, enervating, and emotional to contemplate. “We’ll leave well enough alone, and grin and bear it.” And then there are the small numbers of evangelicals serving as water-carriers for the post-Christian liberal trend-setters of the denomination. These Stockholm Syndrome “faithful Presbyterians” speak of the wonderful things the denomination is doing, the great prospects for the future, the exciting social justice changes making the lives of those on the margins so much better. “It’s still a great denomination to be in, and we’re on the forefront of a new thing that God is doing in these days!”

The PCUSA, of course, can’t use the threat of death to keep dhimmis in line, as does Islam. But it can tell them to empty their pockets and leave behind all their belongings before they cross the border into freedom. Plunder “for the use and benefit of the PCUSA. It seems that those in denominational authority have mastered that strategy! Presbyterian dhimmitude — who would have thought it possible?!


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