Politically Correct Dialog?
During November 2008 the United Nations convened a “High-Level Meeting on the Culture of Peace” (it was also called a 'Dialog Conference'). This meeting of political leaders was planned as a follow up to a series of Interfaith Conferences attended mainly by religious leaders over the last two years. A substantial amount of funding for these events came from King Abdallah which is ironic since his kingdom is known for its repressive religious regulations. Saudi Arabia prohibits building churches and maintains a vigilant guard against their citizens converting to Christianity. Raymond Ibrahim brilliantly exposes this hypocrisy in “Saudi hypocrisy at its best.”
The Saudi King is a prominent Muslim, so his sponsorship of these conferences tends to reinforce the idea that Islam is a tolerant, peaceful religion. On the contrary, however, Muslim leaders (such as Abdallah) who supported these events, are governing their nations in a way that severely restricts freedom of religion.
Furthermore, on the 24th November 2008 a coalition of Muslim nations voted as a block in the United Nations to pass a draft proposal that prohibits defamation of religions. This draft follows up another similar proposal which was passed eleven months earlier. These high-level proposals allege that "Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism." Muslims understand these statements to mean that no one should criticize Islam.
Using this kind of twisted logic, many Muslim dominated countries justify having anti-blasphemy laws. These laws, coupled with apostasy laws, intimidate Muslims who may want to change their faith. As a result, freedom of conscience is severely restricted. On the other hand, Christians who live or work in these countries are not permitted to freely discuss their faith. The discussions can be a threat because authorities view such activity as trying to convert Muslims.
Evangelism is not the only thing that is curtailed by these UN proposals. The way they are interpreted by Muslims, actually undermines the standards codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the keystone of the United Nations. This poignant warning has been expressed by various Christian leaders as they see continuing widespread persecution of Christians in many Muslim countries including the suppression of ideas deemed politically incorrect (i.e. critical of Islam).
A Muslim friend told me these high-level meetings are 'shop talk'. The ideals they propose, such as, free interchange of ideas and freedom of worship are rarely put into practice. Nevertheless, I believe that, as Christians, we can be encouraged. These trends are opening significant opportunities to share our faith. We need to ask ourselves, "How would the apostle Paul – who engaged in friendly dialog with non-Christians in Acts 17 – regard such prohibitions against hate speech and against criticizing other religions?" Did Paul refrain from addressing the false beliefs of the Athenians in the interest of being 'politically correct'?
In Acts chapter 17 he did not shrink back so as to avoid offending non-Christians. He candidly corrected their idolatry saying, “God doesn't live in man-made temples, ... we shouldn't think of God as an idol ... now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins".
If Paul had shrunk back, fearing he might offend them, he would have compromised the heart of the gospel which requires people to repent and make a fundamental change. Not only so, Paul's approach to these idol worshipers was in keeping with Christ's example as seen in John 4. We read how Jesus engaged Samaritans in friendly dialog. Unlike the idolatrous Athenians the Samaritans believed in one Lord – the God of Abraham, yet their view of God was distorted. So Jesus Christ corrected them, albeit in a gentle manner. He said, “You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.” (John 4:22)
Following the example of Jesus we can engage in dialog with monotheists, speaking the truth in love – even when it involves correcting their false ideas. Following Christ in the current climate dominated by politically correct thinking is not easy but it can be done.
We need to be alert to the warped way some people are interpreting UN proposals that prohibit defaming other religions. However, we should not be overly defensive or paranoid. Rather let us build bridges. As we see a deepening divide between Muslims and Christians let us greet our Muslim neighbors and befriend them as Jesus taught (Matthew 5:46).
Despite the shallow shop talk and political motivations underlying the Dialog Conferences we can be encouraged to see doors of dialog opening. An example is an article entitled “A Dialog about the One True God” which explains a core concept about God that many Muslims have acknowledged.
Building on this foundational discussion there are a dozen other articles explaining various aspects in more detail. Among these are two articles that are specially worth noting in light of the upcoming Christmas season. One entitled “Signposts to Paradise” focuses on the miraculous birth of Jesus, especially the meaning of his name. The other article entitled “Messiah the Peacemaker” begins with the angelic announcement of Messiah's birth, “Peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
Point to Ponder
We often think of dialog in terms of leaders consulting with one another but that is only one side of the story. Dialog means many other things, especially if we look at the grass roots level where common folk talk with each other. For example, we could look at a discussion Jesus had with a Samaritan woman. Earlier we alluded to this encounter in John chapter 4.
This Samaritan woman ranked very low on the social scale partly because of her serial marriages and the man she was now living with was not her husband. Though she was a low ranking outcast she spontaneously got engaged in dialog (so to speak) by spreading the news that she had discovered someone who she believed could be the Messiah. The kind of dialog she initiated was quite different from the stilted, sometimes stifled deliberations which are common place in leadership conferences. Her spontaneous style of dialog had an amazing effect. We read that “the people came streaming from the village to see Jesus... Many Samaritans ... believed in Jesus because the woman had said, 'He told me everything I ever did'...Then they said to the woman, 'Now we know that he is indeed the Savior of the world.'” (John 4:39-42)
Acts chapter 8 contains another example of grass roots dialog. We read in verses1 and 2 how “a great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria.... But the believers who were scattered preached the Good News about Jesus everywhere they went.” (Acts 8:1,2,4) As a result many people believed in Jesus as the Messiah. (Acts 8:12) Let us not underestimate the fact that the main impetus of spreading the news about Jesus was not the official leaders of the church, it was the lay people!
From this story we can learn that dialog is not always pleasant or spontaneous. The Christians in Jerusalem were forced out of their cultural-comfort zone. They fled from persecution in Jerusalem and went into the two adjacent provinces taking the Good News as they went. Imagine what was going through the minds of those who emigrated to Samaria. Doctrinal and ethnic differences had fueled a centuries-old feud with their Samaritan half brothers. Interestingly their initial reluctance to engage in dialog changed. As they were 'forced' to live among Samaritans and talk with them they discovered it was not so difficult to share faith after all. Indeed, they experienced great joy and fulfillment as many Samaritans accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.
Another article that evaluates recent attempts at dialog among Christian and Muslim leaders can be found here.
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