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[COMMENT: John Rankin shows some of the best of Christian witness. I urge all Christians to take his attitude of open discussion on a level playing field. We Christians MUST regain our intellectual credibility -- without which we cannot sustain our moral or spiritual credibility -- and thus have little or no testimony. That is our situation today. It need not stay that way -- if we are willing to pick up our crossed daily (as in every day) and follow Jesus.
I think the chances very remote for a strong movement among
Muslims to accept this challenge. The pressure from the violent among them
is too great. BUT, we Christians must (1) get our own act together in this
way, and (2) openly and persistently and gracefully challenge Muslims to stand
up and be counted in this way also. They must be vigorously challenged to
go after the extremists -- hammer and tong -- on these very grounds.
Rev. John C. Rankin,
Theological Education Institute (TEI) and the Mars Hill Society
150 Trumbull Street, 4th Floor, Hartford, Connecticut 06103
860/246-0099 www.teinetwork.com firstname.lastname@example.org
A Vision for
"First the Gospel, Then Politics..."
A Passion for "The Love of Hard Questions."
TEI Update #180, July 20, 2007
Will Islam Embrace the Level Playing Field?
Dear Friends in Christ:
Greetings, as always, in the love of the Lord.
Two weeks ago I had opportunity to attend a large conference here in Hartford at the Convention Center -- sponsored by the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) and the Muslim American Society (MAS). Among nearly 10,000 Muslims, I was the rare exception as a Christian, and also as a minister of the Gospel. Almost all the women wore the hijab, the head covering which they believe is required or much encouraged by the Qur'an; and a large plurality if not a majority of the men were bearded. At least on that count, I might have fit in a little.
I was able to meet with many Muslims leaders, and various Mars Hill Forums will hopefully result. And some scholarly relationships as well. Nonetheless, the idea of a level playing field for all ideas to be heard equally, with all people being treated as equals in terms of a common humanity, is largely if not completely foreign to Islamic history from Muhammad until the influence of the Modern West. It is still an exception in their midst. But human nature is wired for such an honest definition of equality, and so I reach out with integrity as best I can.
On Saturday, July 28, from 4-6 p.m. EDT, midnight in the Middle East, I will debate an Egyptian Muslim on the internet -- Wesam Abd Allah, who has done 400 such debates with Christian priests and ministers, seeking "to guide people to the right path." Some 500 people from several dozen countries usually listen in. I will send out a special notice as soon as I have the chat room information for you to listen in as you may please. He narrows the topic, as this is his chat room, and he will ask me to show how Jesus is the incarnate Son of God from the Bible, and he will seek to disprove my argument.
Finally here, I want to share part of an email I sent to another Muslim leader, who seeks to convert Christians to Islam. He is an enjoyable person whom you could trust with your valuable possessions. But when I invited him to address a forum with me and seek to convince me that Islam is true, he has backed off, at least so far. Here is part of my response:
"My agenda is, and has been for decades, to provide a level playing field for all ideas to be heard equally in a range of theological and political issues -- starting with the essence of the Golden Rule, to make sure that those who believe differently are extended the hospitality to be fully heard first, and second, to pose me their most important questions. This is relational integrity and intellectual rigor.
"Thus, if Islam is true, and Muslims are confident in that, then they should fully welcome such an opportunity. I am convinced the Bible is true, that Jesus is Lord and the Alpha and the Omega. I was raised an agnostic Unitarian, and 40 years ago when I sought the God of creation, he showed up supernaturally. Because I am convinced of the truth of the Bible, I am free to let it be tested all the time. This is the confidence of truth on its own terms. And I can say honestly, if evidence can be shown that the truth is otherwise, I am open. But the evidence must be there, and I am bold enough to ask Islam, or any other worldview, to show it.
"Now at another and crucial level, my sense of mission is to let the fruit of my life be evident, and part of that means the extension of religious, political and economic liberty to all peoples and nations equally -- regardless of what they believe. I will forsake my own God-given liberties rather than to see a Muslim lose his or her God-given liberties. Theologically, this freedom on my part reflects the ethical power of Jesus on the cross, and in his resurrection.
"So, a truly even-handed public discussion with you, with an audience of Muslims, Christians and others, would be a delightful learning experience for both of us, and all in attendance. I believe profoundly in a true liberal arts education, and that the love of hard questions in all directions serves truth. So let me conclude here with three questions:
"Would you be open for me to email you my perspective on one or several of the issues you raised, and glean your response?
"Does Islam have a tradition where it enters theological and historical debate with Jews, Christians or infidels -- treating them as equals in the sense of a shared humanity?
"I have read material concerning Surah 2:256, and in its best sense it is nonetheless a double negative, not a simple universal positive as Jesus gives in stating the Golden Rule and the shema. So, if there is "no coercion" in Islam -- within the purposes of the Qur'an, the nature of Islamic history, and realities concerning various sociological dimensions within the Ummah worldwide -- here is my question: Are Muslims equally free to convert to another religion or worldview, just as they are free to receive others to "revert" into Islam?"
Blessings and your servant in Jesus, John
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