Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Tomorrow’s National Prayer Breakfast, traditionally an evangelical Christian event, will be a demonstration of interfaith worship.

Sen. Norm Coleman, Minnesota Republican, is the first Jewish co-chairman, and Jordan’s King Abdullah, a Muslim, will attend the breakfast and give a major luncheon speech a few hours later.

Several persons close to the event organizers say the keynote speaker will be the rock star Bono, founder of the Irish band U2. A spokesman for Bono, an outspoken Christian and backer of humanitarian causes, did not return calls yesterday.

King Abdullah’s speech will be his first address since a triple suicide bombing Nov. 9 in Amman, Jordan, that killed 60 persons and injured scores of others.

“He wants to help people understand the image of traditional Islam as tolerant and founded on the same essential principles as Judaism and Christianity,” says Joseph Lumbard, the king’s interfaith adviser. “And he knows that if you want to talk about religion in a meaningful way in the United States, he’ll have to talk with evangelicals.”

King Abdullah has already made contacts with U.S. Muslims, Jews and Roman Catholics but has yet to address evangelical Christians, estimated to number 50 million.

The king’s luncheon speech “will focus on religion in context of the idea of clash of civilizations,” Mr. Lumbard says. The king doesn’t agree such a clash exists, he says, because “in terms of the November bombings, the terrorists were out for anyone: Jews, Christians and Muslims.”

The king will take questions from about two dozen evangelical leaders in a closed session immediately afterward.

However, some Jordanian Christian evangelicals, who asked to remain anonymous, say the king should pay attention to the small evangelical Christian minority in his country. Islam is the state religion in Jordan, and Muslims are not allowed to convert to another religious faith.

“He says there’s freedom of religion; well, usually it’s freedom of religion within the boundaries of Islam,” one Jordanian Christian says. “Why is it that, at local interfaith conferences, the government insists on preapproving all the [speeches], lest anything be said to challenge Islam? We don’t have interfaith dialogue; we have a one-faith dialogue.”

Another asked why Jordan’s five evangelical groups — Baptists and members of Nazarene, Assembly of God, Christian Missionary Alliance and Evangelical Free Church congregations — are not given a “synod,” which is a religious court that determines matters of inheritance and property ownership. Others, such as Catholics, Seventh-day Adventists and the Orthodox, have their own synods.

Although the evangelical groups merged more than five years ago to form their own synod, the government has yet to recognize it. Even a recent personal visit with the king from Marilyn Hickey, an American evangelist, has so far come to naught.

The king’s interfaith adviser earlier this week blamed rival church groups for blocking recognition of the evangelical synod. This astonished one of the Jordanian Christian spokesmen. “You mean to tell me that King Abdullah is letting the established churches tell him what to do?”

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