Commenting on the recent statement by Pope Benedict XVI that “My visit to Jordan gives me a welcome opportunity to speak of my deep respect for the Muslim community,” Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary took issue.
Criticizing the Pope not only for acting as a “head of state” and “speaking in diplomatic jargon rather than plain and direct speech,” Mohler further argues that the Pope is “speaking of “respect” without any clear understanding of what this really means.”
While evangelical Christians face a different context to this question, the urgency is the same. We are not playing a diplomatic role as head of state, but we are called to be ambassadors for Christ and his Gospel.
In this light, any belief system that pulls persons away from the Gospel of Christ, denies and subverts Christian truth, and blinds sinners from seeing Christ as the only hope of salvation is, by biblical definition, a way that leads to destruction. Islam, like every other rival to the Christian gospel, takes persons captive and is devoid of genuine hope for salvation.
Mohler is not only unable to respect Islam; he is also not ready to respect other Christians who might have a different opinion to his. Certainly he disrespects the Pope, who is the leader of the largest Christian body in the world. And, while Southern Baptists may be the largest Protestant denomination in the US, there are four times as many Catholics. Not only that, but not all baptists (like yours truly, for example) will agree with Mohler’s assessment.
Thus, evangelical Christians may respect the sincerity with which Muslims hold their beliefs, but we cannot respect the beliefs themselves. We can respect Muslim people for their contributions to human welfare, scholarship, and culture. We can respect the brilliance of Muslim scholarship in the medieval era and the wonders of Islamic art and architecture. But we cannot respect a belief system that denies the truth of the gospel, insists that Jesus was not God’s Son, and takes millions of souls captive.
Hmmm. Interesting distinctions. It’s a variation on the old adage to “hate the sin, but love the sinner.” Only problem is, such fine distinctions usually don’t work out very well in the real world. “I respect the sincerity of your belief, but I detest the beliefs themselves” doesn’t sound much like respect at all.
This does not make for good diplomacy, but we are called to witness, not public relations. We must aim to be gracious and winsome in our witness to Christ, but the bottom line is that the gospel will necessarily come into open conflict with its rivals.
What Mohler dismisses as “good diplomacy, and “public relations” is, rather, the kind of compassionate and hospitable welcoming of diversity upon which a sustainable human community depends. When I claim a divine right to disrespect another, I create and foment conflict in my relationships, and ultimately in my community.
- R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Should Christians “Respect” Other Religions?
- Pope’s Address: “Queen Alia” International Airport of Amman
Friday, 8 May 2009