Rick Warren asks Muslims for help

WASHINGTON — In a controversial address to the nation's largest Muslim organization, Rick Warren asked for their cooperation in addressing some of the world's problems that governments haven't been able to solve.

Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, told about 8,000 Muslims at the Islamic Society of North America's annual convention in Washington July 4 that he was "deeply humbled" and applauded their courage for inviting an evangelical pastor.

"I come to you today with a spirit of love and a spirit of friendship and a spirit of deep respect. I love my dear, dear Muslim friends, my next door neighbor and so many that are friends, and I love you," Warren said.


A challenge to cooperate
During his 20-minute address, Warren set forth four specific ways Muslims and Christians can work together, "maintaining our separate traditions, maintaining our convictions without compromise," for the world's greater good.

"As the two largest faiths on this planet—Muslims and Christians—we must lead in this. We must lead," Warren said. "With over 1 billion Muslims and over 2 billion Christians, together as half the world we have to do something about modeling what it means to live in peace, to live in harmony."

First, Warren called on Muslims and Christians to demonstrate what it means to respect the dignity of every person.

"Tolerance is not enough. People don't want to be tolerated. They want to be respected. They want to be treated with dignity. They want to be listened to. They want to be valued," he said.

Toward that end, Warren proposed a coalition to end stereotyping.

"Since today much of the press is actually clueless as to what you believe and as to what I believe, there are frequent mischaracterizations in the media, frequent ignorant generalizations—generalizations are generally wrong—and frequent stereotyping of all of us. And, friends, it needs to be challenged," Warren said.

A second area where Muslims and Christians should work together, Warren said, is restoring the civil public square where people of all beliefs can debate and even disagree without demeaning each other.

"The right to believe anything does not mean everything is right," he said. "But you can, as I said, disagree without being disagreeable."

Warren cited as a third goal of Muslims and Christians working together to promote peace and protect freedom, particularly the freedoms of speech and religion.

"History has proven over and over again that freedom is eventually lost to either license or political correctness or the fear for security. And so we have to work at protecting the freedoms," Warren said, adding that Muslims who have been in America for many generations have a responsibility to teach the newcomers what it means to be American.

Fourth, Muslims and Christians can work together toward tackling what Warren called five global giants: conflict, corruption, poverty, disease and illiteracy.

"There are 600,000 Buddhists in the world, there are 800,000 Hindus in the world, there are over a billion Muslims, a couple billion Christians," he said. "Most of the world has some kind of faith, and if you say only secularists can do humanitarian care, you've ruled out most of the world."

Warren gave as an example his church's work with Muslims in Rwanda toward improving the African nation's poor health care system, suggesting that the success could be duplicated elsewhere.

"Friends, this is the time for action, this is the time for civility, this is the time for respecting each other. It's the time for the common good, that we work together because some problems are so big you have to team tackle them," Warren said.


Support from some
Before and after Warren spoke at the Muslim convention, observers voiced views supporting and criticizing his decision. The Associated Press said that, given Warren's standing as "one of the most prominent religious leaders in the country," his willingness to speak was "a sign of growing acceptance of U.S. Muslims."

AP also noted that it was not the first time Warren had addressed an American Muslim group. Last December he spoke at a meeting of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, a policy organization based in Los Angeles.

"But the Islamic Society gathering is by far his most dramatic display of friendship with U.S. Muslims," AP said.

Mike Edens, a professor of theology and Islamic studies at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, told Baptist Press Warren was acting in line with a document he had signed previously advocating Muslim-Christian interaction.

The full-page letter endorsed by Warren and nearly 300 other Christian leaders appeared in The New York Times in December 2007. It was drafted by scholars at Yale Divinity School's Center for Faith and Culture and said conversation should take place between Christians and Muslims centered on the "common ground" the two religions share.

"Warren speaks as a disciple of Jesus Christ [and] explains the meaning of Jesus' command to love our neighbors," Edens said in a statement to BP. "In his view, biblical love is active, attacking stereotypes, respecting diversity and living with civility with neighbors.

"Freedom of thought and religion is granted lovingly for neighbors. This freedom includes persuasive witness, without coercion between neighbors," Edens continued. "For Warren, this definition of neighborly love is the beginning of establishing the common good for all humanity.

"The hard part of this speech is the application: working together for the common good and conducting personal witness to salvation in Jesus Christ within the context of that work," Edens said.


Criticism from others
Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum, a think tank focusing on issues in the Middle East, questioned Warren's choice to speak to the Islamic Society of North America in particular.

"The constructive substance of Warren's talk—the calls to dignity, civility, freedom and to constructive action—was severely outbalanced by his addressing these words to an Islamist organization that shares few of his goals—that is in fact antagonistic to them," Pipes told BP.

"ISNA works to apply the Shari'a, or Islamic law, a medieval code that denies dignity, civility and freedom to non-Muslims. Worse, the Department of Justice in 2007 named ISNA as an unindicted co-conspirator in the crime of financing a foreign terrorist group," Pipes said. "Warren should atone for this mistake by apologizing and finding moderate Muslims to endorse and work with."

In a July 10 blog entry at danielpipes.org, Pipes quoted a report by the Investigative Project on Terrorism which said the conference also "featured speakers spewing raw anti-Semitism, homophobic rhetoric and defense of the terrorist group Hezbollah."

Edens, in his comments to Baptist Press, said, "While it is clear that ISNA has been a channel for funds to Hamas, the fact remains that the members of the ISNA are our American neighbors in need of a Christian witness. Secondly, although those members have always had a choice between involvement with groups like Hamas and groups which seek the common good, with Pastor Warren's address that choice becomes stark. As Muslim Americans disavow Hamas and choose to embrace the common good, freedom and peace will advance. Giving Muslims a choice to join in such a pursuit benefits all humanity."

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