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Waging Peace

On Sunday, the Vatican announced, that there are now more Muslims in the world than Catholics.

In a major foreign policy address on March 26th, John McCain called "the threat of radical Islamic terrorism . . . the transcendent challenge of our time."

The challenge is far more than military. It is about law enforcement, foreign policy, public vigilance (but not vigilantism), strength of character, and more.

The ultimate battlefield in the war on terror is not the United States, Iraq, Iran, or even Afghanistan. It's a place in the minds and hearts of a billion Muslims. Relatively few of these are "radical," and fewer still have any intention of joining the terrorists. Still, the battle will be won or lost within them. And it's a battle we've hardly begun to fight.

I addressed this issue in a three minute video essay entitled, "Respect." It is onon YouTube.

"Blessed are the Peacemakers"

On 9-11-01, Americans found themselves in the midst of something huge and mysterious, stretching back fourteen centuries. President Bush said it was an attack on democracy itself — on our freedoms and way of life. How would democracy respond? It has been remarkably resilient against foes and in situations our founders could never have imagined. But the challenge of Islamic terrorism is not like communism or world wars or any of the other things we've been embroiled in. This time winning will take more.

In December of 1999, I was in Amman, Jordan working on an event hosted by Harald Bredesen, Bert and Jane Boeckmann, and James and Susan Baker. They were giving the Prince of Peace Prize, posthumously, to King Hussein of Jordan. Here were a group of Christians honoring a Muslim peacemaker. King Hussein had trained all his life for war, but his greatness didn't come on the battlefield. It came at the negotiating table. Former Secretary of State James Baker would say, "He waged peace."

Since I was involved in that Muslim-Christian effort, you may wonder why I made a video stating that Christians aren't honest enough with Muslims. Here's how it happened.

Harald Bredesen

I think of my twenty-two years with Harald Bredesen as a series of adventures. Harald was always seeing things Christians should be doing, and then trying to do them — sometimes succeeding wildly, sometimes not so much.

One of his chief interests was in Muslims. Note that I don't say "Islam." Harald's interest centered around individuals. He had been a dear friend of Anwar Sadat (the first recipient of the Prince of Peace Prize) and other Muslims. Sadat arranged for him to minister to the Shah of Iran as the Shah lay near death in Egypt. Harald was grieved by the great enmity between Muslims and Christians. He often heard from well meaning friends (and yes, occasionally from me) that he was spending more time and resources on these peacemaking efforts than made sense.

During those years with Harald, I learned of various Christian groups reaching out to Muslims. As time passed, I came to feel many of their efforts were misguided. There seemed to be an underlying premise that Islam and Christianity are essentially the same, and if we can only talk, we can work out the differences. Naively, I think, many working for peace don't recognize the depth or importance of the religious differences.

Harald saw himself as a bridge-builder, and that starts with taking a clear look at the chasm to be bridged. Instead of ignoring the differences, he admitted them, even embraced them.

He constantly showed love and friendship for Muslims. This was not because he felt Islam and Christianity were branches of the same religious tree. Neither was he motivated by faith in the teachings of Mohammed. And, what may be most important, he never tried to explain to Muslims what their faith really meant.

He knew the Christian side of the equation. He was there in obedience to the love of Jesus which flowed through him, and to the Lord's commands, such as "Love your neighbor as yourself."

This approach did not demean Mohammed or Islam. Just the opposite. Demeaning would be to pretend he had been motivated by teachings he had never embraced. It would have been demeaning if he said the differences between Islam and Christianity are "unimportant." The two faiths contradict one another in essential ways. If the differences are no big deal, then neither are the essential teachings of either religion.

To Harald, it was simple. We disagree on important issues. Where we disagree, we each think we're right and the other wrong. But that doesn't stop us from being friends. That doesn't stop us from respecting one another. That doesn't stop us from engaging one another in lively, but courteous discussion.

As one person said in the comments section of our video on YouTube, "We can't ‘celebrate diversity' by glossing over the differences between cultures."

Without Compromising

James Baker made the presentation of the Prince of Peace Prize to King Abdullah who received it in his late father's stead. Here is an excerpt from the former Secretary of State's remarks:

King Hussein . . . was a Muslim. Most Israelis are Jews. Many of us here tonight are Christians. These are different faiths with different understandings of the meanings of God's words and of the working of God's hand in the world. These differences do exist. They cannot be denied and they cannot be ignored. And these conflicts, sadly, have led to great conflicts in the world, both in ancient times and in modern times. I think the great challenge for all of us is how to find common ground with people of other faiths without compromising or denying our own faiths.

Some Christians reading this may be saying, "But Muslims blow up our buildings. They kill civilians. They praise their young for strapping bombs to their bodies and blowing themselves up, along with as many others as they can."

Yes. Some Muslims do those things. But not all. The challenge before the rest of the world — no matter the faith or lack thereof — is to encourage and strengthen those Muslims who don't want an ongoing war, haven't declared jihad against us, but don't particularly like or trust Americans.

How does it feel to be a moderate Muslim living in the United States, Europe, or the Middle East, and hear the term "Islamofascist"? Late in Harald's life, a Muslim friend wrote him a letter telling him how this term grieved him. At the time, I thought, "Sorry, but it's a good description."

Now my thinking has changed. There are lots of good descriptions. Why not sacrifice this one for the sake of friends struggling to stay friends and for enemies who might one day become friends? Americans who use the term are describing a certain group within Islam. But that's not how it feels to most Muslims. By and large, they feel painted by one big brush.

Does the term "Islamofascist" win hearts or harden them?

We can't compromise our principles, but we can be kind. We must try to understand how others think and feel, but never presume to have looked around inside their heads or hearts. We must speak the truth, but in love.

If you are a Christian, remember that this is a spiritual challenge. Does prayer change things? Yes. So, pray. Pray specifically and generally. Call out to God on behalf of Muslims everywhere.

Yes, some have shown themselves to be your enemy, but not all. Either way, enemy or friend, Jesus says love, bless, and pray.

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. — Matthew 5:43-44

Waging Peace
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Posted: 4-3-2008

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