Journal of Ecumenical Studies - Volume 51, Number 2 (Spring 2016)

Combating Islamophobia
Douglas M. Johnston

Since September 11, 2001, the phenomenon known as “Islamophobia” has swept across the United States, reflecting the growing concern among many Americans that practitioners of the Muslim faith are fundamentally irrational, intolerant, and violent and that Islam has become inconsistent with the American way of life. Prominent among those who are fanning the flames of this particular narrative are elements within the American far-right, including evangelical Christians. In October, 2015, the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy in partnership with Peace Catalyst International and the Dialogue Institute brought together some thirty prominent U.S. evangelical leaders with selected representatives from the Muslim, Jewish, and non-evangelical Christian faiths to address the various dimensions of Islamophobia, how they manifest themselves, and what can be done to counter them. This essay captures the details.

America’s Unique Constitutional Framework and the Fit of Islam
Howard A. Cohen

This essay is a brief review of the U.S. Constitution and Islamophobia, with an emphasis on the Founding Fathers and protections of all religions in the Constitution. The author makes a plea for the understanding of Islam and other religions in the tumultuous times in which we live.

The Relationship between the Muslim World and the United States and the Root of Islamophobia in America
Imam Feisal A. Rauf

The problems between the United States and the Muslim world have nothing to do with American values or American business. These problems are too often over-simplified, but, if we analyze and sort them, we find that they fall into several identifiable categories: political, economic/socioeconomic, identity, theological/belief, and perception. Breaking up larger problems into constituent and identifiable parts helps us carefully to consider each problem component and craft initiatives in each of these arenas or spaces.

Persecution of Christians in Muslim-Majority Countries
Elijah M. Brown

The persecution of Christians remains a pressing reality in the forty-four Muslim-majority countries stretching from North Africa through the Middle East and into Asia. This includes active persecution by governments and nonstate actors, most especially the Islamic State, pervasive structural discrimination against religious minority communities, and public passivity. Though there are numerous healthy and strong interpersonal relationships between Muslims and Christians, many of the approximately 56,000,000 Christians currently living within Muslim-majority countries face a precarious situation and significant limitations on their ability to practice their faith robustly.

Anti-Islam Discourse in the United States in the Decade after 9/11: The Role of Social Conservatives and Cultural Politics
David D. Belt

In the decade following the attacks of September 11, 2001, a significant segment of U.S. religious and social conservatives more broadly classified not just al-Qaeda but the entire religion of Islam as a security threat, thereby countering the prevailing professional consensus and White House policy that maintained a distinction between terrorism and Islam. Later in the post-9/11 decade, this popular security discourse degenerated into an even more anti-rational “Green Scare” over the threat from Muslim-Americans—not from violent attacks, but from a more surreptitious nonviolent plan of Islamization—that is, to topple the U.S. Constitution with sharia, or Islamic law. This essay introduces both the nature and agents of this anti-Islam and anti-Islamization discourse. Moreover, it deepens the prevailing characterization of this anti-Islam discourse as “Islamophobia” by showcasing its political utility—how well-known social-conservative culture warriors—both individual elite and institutions—opportunistically seized the topic of Islam as yet another platform upon which to advance their ongoing struggle against their domestic political rivals, the Democrats and the Left more broadly.

American Evangelical Islamophobia: A History of Continuity with a Hope for Change
David L. Johnston

This is a historical survey of Protestant attitudes toward and writings about Muslims since colonial New England to the present time, mostly leaning on Thomas S. Kidd’s American Christians and Islam (2009). The author makes three main arguments. First, there is an impressive amount of continuity in the polemical discourse that conservative Protestants have deployed against Islam and Muslims, some of which picks up tropes that go back to the early centuries of Christian-Muslim polemics. Second, this discourse is best studied through the lens of three principal matrices: the political, the prophetic/eschatological, and Christian mission to Muslims. Finally, since 9/11, there has been a hardening of evangelical Islamophobia, as well as a growing wing that seeks reconciliation.

National and International Religious Freedom: An Essential Part of Christian Mission in the Twenty-First Century
Rick Love

It is typical of many faith communities, including Christians, to defend their own rights, while ignoring the rights of others. However, I argue that religious freedom is a biblical mandate, a constitutional right, and an urgent global need. Thus, we defend religious freedom for all faith communities. In fact, promoting and defending religious freedom for all is an essential part of Christian mission in the twenty-first century.

The Moral Ties within the Family of Abraham: A Primer on Shared Social Values in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
Joseph V. Montville

A detailed study of sacred literature in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam reveals an extraordinarily similar teaching of social values and individual morals. The most important revelation for Jews and Christians is the Muslim belief that their holy book, the Qur’ān, is the third and final volume of God’s great book in heaven. The first two volumes were the Torah and the Injil—or Gospels. In terms of values, the three Abrahamic religions are, indeed, a family.

Shoulder to Shoulder with American Muslims: What the Interreligious Community Is Doing to Combat Anti-Muslim Bigotry in America
Catherine Orsborn

While anti-Muslim bigotry has been on the rise in the United States in the last decade, it reached a particular peak in American public discourse in 2010, with the debates over the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque,” the hype around the Murfreesboro mosque in Tennessee, and the threat to burn the Qur’an from Pastor Terry Jones in Florida. At that time, a number of U.S. religious denominational leaders rallied around the American Muslim community to stand in solidarity publicly against this rhetoric, and the Shoulder to Shoulder Campaign was born. Shoulder to Shoulder now includes thirty-two member denominations and organizations and works on national and local levels to address anti-Muslim bigotry in its many manifestations in American society.

Beyond Cooties and Crushes: The Potential for Evangelical Leadership in Christian Engagement with Islam
David McAllister-Wilson

For those who are concerned about Islamophobia and wish to combat it within the context of religious liberty in America, this essay offers a proposal that evangelical Christians, who are thought to be part of the problem, can become leaders in interfaith engagement with Islam. The people most prepared to understand the experience of being Muslim in America are Evangelicals, and the real hope is that fervently orthodox Christians and Muslims may live in a peaceable community. We need Evangelicals to take the lead. What tempers Mainline Protestants, what has prepared them for interfaith engagement, is intellectual doubt, but this is also their limitation. What can temper and prepare Evangelicals to lead us in interfaith engagement toward Islam is confessional humility, after the example of St. Paul and in the image of Christ.

Muslims in America
Majid Alsayegh

American Muslims face prejudice and discrimination, yet have a responsibility to break stereotypes and engage in dialogue with members of other faiths and ethnic groups.

Turn It and Turn It Again: The Vital Contribution of Krister Stendahl to Jewish-Christian Relations
Mary C. Boys

This essay explores the contributions of the late Lutheran bishop and New Testament scholar, Krister Stendahl, to the church’s rethinking of problematic readings of its sacred texts, particularly with regard to women and Judaism. Stendahl’s pastoral sensitivities gave rise to four phrases that serve as widely accessible hermeneutical “principles”: (1) “It’s not about me.” (2) “Words that grow legs and walk out of their context.” (3) “Christianity as a construct.” (4) “Leave room for holy envy.” Stendahl’s way of articulating brilliant exegetical insights in simple terminology reveals how someone who wrote relatively little made an enormous impact on both biblical scholarship and the church.