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Evangelicals for Ramadan By: Mark D. Tooley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, August 27, 2009

“Emergent Church” guru and Evangelical Left activist Brian McLaren, a regular columnist for Jim Wallis’ Sojourners, is currently engaged in a Ramadan fast in solidarity with Muslim friends.

Maybe that’s nice.  But would McLaren organize a similar fast on behalf of persecuted Christians and other victims of radical Islam?  Or would that be too culturally confrontational for the post-modern evangelical who has shunned his conservative past and prefers creating common ground that creates alliances for the Left?  

McLaren has complained that in America, “xenophobia and bigotry [too often are ] passing off for patriotism and piety.”  His own personal Ramadan journey is apparently a remedy.

“We are not doing so in order to become Muslims: we are deeply committed Christians,” McLaren declared on his blog, lest there be any doubt about the intent of his Ramadan fast.  “But as Christians, we want to come close to our Muslim neighbors and to share this important part of life with them.”

As McLaren tells it, he’ll be joining Muslims worldwide who are fasting from “food, water, sex, etc., from dawn o dusk.”  With a few Christian friends, he will join Muslims in Ramadan as a “God-honoring expression of peace, fellowship, and neighborliness.   

McLaren noted that among Ramadan’s “core values” are “self control, expressing kindness, and resolving conflicts.”  So when or if he and the others are “criticized or misunderstood,” they will avoid self defense or arguments, instead merely offering humble explanations and empathy.   

As McLaren has explained, “So many people (sadly, including many Christians) display a prejudice against them [Muslims] that is not unlike the ugly racism and anti-Semitism that have been too common in our past (and remain so, tragically, in our present)? Would Jesus be friends with Muslim people if he were here today? Would he perhaps dare to eat (or in the case of Ramadan, fast) with them?”  

Is American and Christian “prejudice” against Muslims the chief issue before the world?  Like many formerly conservative Evangelicals, McLaren sometimes portrays his former kindred as now the focus of shame, from which he must endlessly extricate himself.  Revealingly, last year McLaren wrote a book called:  “Everything Must Change,” which argued that Evangelicals must overcome their former insular preoccupations and instead address truly planetary crises such as “unsustainable prosperity,” the “growing gap between rich and poor,” and confronting “potentially catastrophic weapons” with nonviolence.   In other words, American evangelicals must turn Left to be relevant and atone for their past myopia.    

Unlike the “attitudes of anger, superiority, hostility, disdain, and perhaps even fear” from critics of his Ramadan fast, McLaren boasts that he plans to “cross bridges, overcome barriers, identify with, and build relationships with people of different backgrounds.”  If McLaren references radical Islam as a threat, it is only to equate it with conservative Christianity, or Judaism, which are at least equal threats.   

In response to the Iranian theocracy’s suppression of anti-regime protests, McLaren opined in June that there are “two kinds of Christianity, along with two kinds of Islam, Judaism, and every other religion and non-religion too: one of social control and one of social transformation ... one to hold people down, one to lift them up ... one an opiate to pacify people into compliance, the other a stimulant to empower people to imagine a better world, a better future, a better life ... giving them the courage to live in peaceful defiance of violent, corrupt, and greedy powers-that-be.”  

Contrasting himself with conservative Christians earlier this month, McLaren cited his own enlightened view of faith as a “catalytic force” and “agent of transformation” that “transcends those static left-right polarities altogether.”  Meanwhile, conservatives “wholeheartedly supported the war in Iraq, the use of torture, Guantanamo, anti-gay laws, etc.”  Citing John Esposito’s Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think, McLaren asserted that Americans are proportionately more willing to kill innocent civilians than are Iranians are Saudis.  He also bemoaned a poll purportedly showing that most white evangelical Protestants in the U.S. support “torture.”   

Of course, McLaren believes that Evangelical support for Israel is an obstacle to interfaith harmony.  While largely unwilling to criticize radical Islam by name, he has condemned the “terrible, deadly, distorted, yet popular theologies associated with Christian Zionism” that “create bigotry and prejudice against Muslims.”  He urged Christian Zionists bravely to abandon their prejudice, just as white segregationists had to shed theirs 50 years ago, even if the result was rejection from morally blind church friends.    

For a further peak at McLaren’s worldview, watch him sing and strum his folk song:  “When We Gonna Wake Up?”  “How we gonna fight terror with terror?” he throatily warbles.  “How we gonna fight lies with lies.”  Seemingly there is no great moral distinction between jihadists and the police and military forces that attempt to suppress them.  

We can hope that McLaren’s Ramadan fast generates good will and inter-religious understanding.  But more likely, McLaren’s interfaith ritual just further evinces the Left’s chronic misunderstanding that all cultural and international conflict can be remedied through apologies, folk songs, Western guilt, and flamboyant sentimentality.

Mark D. Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. He is the author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church.

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