When I wrote here yesterday about the future of Islam, I didn't get into the complicated topic of how people of other faiths -- especially Christianity -- relate to Muslims nowadays.
But it's a critical question, given that, together, Christians and Muslims make up roughly half the population of the globe, with Christians currently outnumbering Muslims but with Muslims catching up so that the two groups may be roughly equal by 2050.
The mostly widely publicized responses to Islam have come from bigoted fools such as Pam Geller, who organized that ridiculous Muhammad cartoon contest in Texas recently that resulted in two deaths.
But many people of faith in the U.S., including Christians, have been looking for more peaceful and loving responses that, at the same time, don't naively ignore the reality that violent Islamists exist and cause everyone trouble.
One such person is Joshua Graves, pastor of Otter Creek Church of Christ in Nashville. In his new book, with the awkward and off-putting title of How Not to Kill a Muslim, he calls Christians to develop friendly relations with Islam based on the ethic of being a good neighbor that Jesus taught.
Graves says his purpose in this book is to convince Christians who, like him, would identify themselves as evangelical, not to adopt a mindless hostility toward Islam but to learn about that faith and to respect Muslims as beloved children of God.
"The tension between Muslims and Christians in the United States," he writes, "is not going to magically disappear. It is real. And it is an opportunity for remarkable progress. . .Christians have an opportunity at this very moment to lead the way on dialogue and reconciliation and resist taking our cues from the broader American culture and its talking heads on cable news and radio, who dispense fear, paranoia, misinformation, hatred and suspicion."
Graves draws on Jesus' parable of the Good (or as Graves calls it the Merciful) Samaritan as "the paradigmatic lens for Christian leaders to participate in dialogue, shared ministry and deep appreciation for our American Muslim neighbors."
People who have been engaged for a long time in interfaith dialogue will find the arguments Graves offers to be both solid and familiar. But he isn't preaching to that choir. He's trying to reach the many Christians who continue to express hostility to an entire religion based on the repugnant actions of some who claim to be adherents of that faith (but who misuse it).
"I long for the day," he writes, "when Christian churches are known for being on the forefront of understanding, dialogue, interaction, service and appreciation for our Muslim neighbors out of the conviction that we do not get to decide who is 'neighbor' and who is 'enemy.'"
I've said many times that if the call to Americans of the 20th Century was to get racial harmony right (still an unfinished task), the call of this century is to get religious harmony right. This book can help -- especially if it gets read by its target audience and if that audience approaches the subject with an open heart.
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A WORD ABOUT WAR PROFITEERS
Pope Francis says some people don't want peace because, as part of the "industry of death," they make money from war. All these years later, Ike's warning about the "military industrial complex" continues to need repeating. But Francis was speaking to children, so in this case he was speaking truth to the powerless.
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P.S.: You may have read about the release yesterday of a Pew Research Center study showing a declining Christian population in the U.S. I plan to unpack an important but often overlooked aspect of that here on the blog -- but not until Friday. But in the meantime I encourage you to read the study itself.
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ANOTHER P.S.: My latest National Catholic Reporter column now is online here.