- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 8, 2003

Evangelical Christian leaders yesterday criticized remarks disparaging Islam by some of their most high-profile leaders, yet released a survey showing that most evangelicals agree with comments by the Revs. Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell, as well as by religious broadcaster Pat Robertson.The survey showed that 79 percent of evangelicals do not believe that Muslims and Christians pray to the same God. Just 10 percent agreed that Islam is a “religion of peace.”The disparity of views between the United States’ 45 million evangelical Christians and their leaders did not go unnoticed by 40 evangelical leaders who participated yesterday in a summit on Christian-Muslim relations at a downtown Washington hotel.”That means the president has a big job on his hands,” said Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), referring to President Bush’s frequent assertions that Islam is a religion of peace. “Most [of the respondents] think Islam is a religion of violence.”The survey, commissioned by the Web site Beliefnet (www.beliefnet.com) and the Washington-based EPPC, polled 350 members of the National Association of Evangelicals, as well as leaders of the 16-million-member Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).The survey found that 77 percent said their view of Islam is “unfavorable”; 76 percent said “Islam opposes religious freedom”; and 97 percent said it is either “very important” or “somewhat important” to evangelize Muslims. The latter point is key because evangelical Christian groups are among those lining up to provide aid to postwar Iraq.The Rev. Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals and pastor of the 9,200-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs, also said the majority of evangelicals are leery of any dialogue with Muslims. Before the war, through his WorldPrayerTeam.org Web site, he requested that 1 million Christians pray that Saddam Hussein would voluntarily go into exile. The top response he got was cynicism, he said.”The number two response was, ‘We think he needs to be killed,’ and the number three response was, ‘We’ll join you in prayer.’ We don’t believe we got the 1 million we were looking for,” he said.Evangelical leaders yesterday lamented “oversimplification” of Islam’s tenets by fellow evangelicals. Richard Cizik, National Association of Evangelicals vice president for governmental affairs, called Mr. Graham’s Good Friday sermon at the Pentagon “bad timing.” However, Mr. Graham was invited in January, almost two months before the start of the war in Iraq.Samaritan’s Purse, Mr. Graham’s Boone, N.C.-based relief organization, declined to send a representative to yesterday’s summit. A Muslim representative was invited, but did not attend.Leaders of yesterday’s summit said some Christian-Muslim dialogue is necessary if for no other reason than to do damage control for past anti-Islamic remarks.In June, former SBC President Jerry Vines called the prophet Muhammad “a demon-possessed pedophile” because the founder of Islam married a 6-year-old, Aisha, and the union was consummated when she was 9.In November 2001, Mr. Graham called Islam “a very evil and wicked religion.” In February 2002, Mr. Robertson said Islam “is not a peaceful religion that wants to coexist.”“They want to coexist until they can control, dominate and then, if need be, destroy,” he said. And in October 2002, Mr. Falwell called Muhammad “a terrorist.”Alluding to “less-than-perfect statements by some of our brothers and sisters,” Institute on Religion and Democracy President Diane Knippers said many evangelicals do not distinguish between typical Muslim teachings and radical Islamic practice. But liberal Christians, she added, minimize very real differences between the two religions and human rights violations visited upon Christians in Muslim countries.The institute released four pages of “guidelines for churches” on how to relate with Muslims. But two Arabic-speaking Christians at the summit informed their fellow evangelicals that dialogue with Muslims may not be as simple as it sounds.”On what grounds would we have dialogue with Muslims?” asked Egyptian-born author Mikhail Labib. “We have to admit there’s a great difference between Christianity and Islam.”

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