But is it Evangelism?

by Daniel Schultz

A church down in Gainesville is planning to hold an “International Burn A Quran Day” on 9/11, part of its larger “Islam is of the Devil” campaign. The pastor talks about the point of the event in an interview with the Friendly Atheist:

Do you think Muslims will turn to Christ as a result of this?
This is our prayer and desire that they would seriously reexamine their religion. They will then come to the conclusion that Islam is of the devil and Christianity is the only true religion.

Have any of the media reports of this event portrayed you unfairly or inaccurately? Would you like to set the record straight on any particular issue?
We have been accused of being racist. We are not attacking a race. In other words, we are not attacking the Moslem. We love the Moslems and hope that they would come to true salvation. What we are attacking is Islam, the religion, and Sharia law, the political system.

This leads Cathy Lynn Grossman at USAToday’s Faith and Reason blog to ask, “Is it evangelism?”*

It is, of a sort. It’s not the kind of polite hey-we-actually-have-more-seats-than-butts-to-fill-them campaigns most people are used to from mainline Protestants or Catholics. Nor is it the high-pressure sales jobs often depicted in the media. In fact, it may not even be directed at Muslims, despite what the good pastor says.

It reminds me of nothing so much as the enormous signs and newspaper ads that have been popping up lately, plumping for a Tea Party rally in the county park. At first, this struck me as rather odd. We live in rural Washington County, Wisconsin, after all. It’s F. James Sensenbrenner’s district, one of the most Republican areas in the entire state. So why would you need to declare—using plenty of caps and bold face—the strength of conservatism in a burnt-over mission field?

For the same reason some churches burn the Quran. If you sit with these events long enough, if you listen behind the violence of their expressed intentions, it begins to resemble a Fletcher Hanks comic book. You start to hear the cry of sad and angry little men, shaking their impotent fists at a world changing without their consent. “International Burn a Quran Day” isn’t about the truth of Jesus Christ. It isn’t about converting heathens. It’s about gathering together an anxiety-ridden remnant to protest the power of Christendom melting away like an ice cube on a hot August sidewalk. If there is to be a conversion, then, it will be a movement of “weak” Christians to “strong” ones, believers who burn with the spirit of over-againstness. It isn’t exactly a good news kind of evangelism, but there it is.

*At least she did. An updated (and renamed) version of the same post shows how the political and religious worlds grow together, with the Lieutenant Governor of Tennessee questioning if Islam might not be a “cult” and therefore not deserving of First Amendment protections. I don’t know what’s worse: that a politician would try to ride that kind of bigotry into office, or that it might work.

Daniel Schultz, a.k.a. pastordan, is a minister in the United Church of Christ. He serves a small and very patient church in rural Wisconsin. He is the author of Changing the Script: An Authentically Faithful and Authentically Progressive Political Theology for the 21st Century, forthcoming from Ig Press.

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