10 a.m. – Noon
Dr. Michael Lawrence, Associate Pastor, Capitol Hill Baptist Church
Kate Moynihan, Deputy Regional Director for Middle East and North Africa, Catholic Relief Services
Dr. Abdulaziz Sachedina, Professor of Religious Studies, University of Virginia; Chairman, Board of Directors, Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy
Bruce Wilkinson, Senior Vice President for International Programs Group, World Vision
Melissa Rogers, Executive Director, Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life
MELISSA ROGERS: I’m Melissa Rogers, executive director of The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. The Forum serves as a clearinghouse of information and a town hall on issues of religion and public affairs. We are supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts, and we are very grateful for that support. We’re also grateful to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace for making this lovely room available to us today for our event.
We worked hard to find a day on which this great group of experts could come together to discuss this issue. As you know, many of them work abroad, so that was no easy trick. We’re very grateful to them for being here with us today.
When Christian missionaries Heather Mercer and Dayna Curry were captured by the brutal Taliban, and then, thankfully, freed from captivity in Afghanistan, our nation’s attention focused for a brief time on the issue of Christian missionary activity in majority Muslim countries. Amidst the deep gratitude that I know we all shared over the fact that these missionaries were safe and free, eventually, many wanted to know more about these young women – who they were, what motivated them and what they were doing in Afghanistan.
Since then, as we’ve been even more deeply engaged in a war on terrorism, and specifically the war in Iraq, we’ve come to focus more intently and broadly on the work of various religious missionary and humanitarian organizations, particularly Christian organizations abroad. Our country has a long and rich tradition of aid groups, including many religious aid groups, traveling around the world to reach those most in need, and they often do their work with little fanfare or attention. But that has changed to some degree in recent months. The sensitive dynamics between Christians and Muslims and current world affairs have increased our interest in these issues and underlined their importance.
They’ve raised many questions for us to consider. What kind of work do these religious groups do? What is the range of services that they provide? What are the philosophies and theologies that underlie the provision of these varied services? Some Christian aid groups, as was noted in the invitation, offer only humanitarian services and discourage evangelism in certain situations and, in certain ways, while others permit or encourage sharing their Christian faith in Muslim countries. How do these Christian groups arrive at these different positions, and how do they draw the line on these issues? And once they’ve drawn the line, how do they communicate that to the people who work for them? How do they enforce the policies that they create?
From an ethical standpoint, of course, there are many questions on the table today. What are the general and specific concerns that religious groups should be aware of and consider as they provide aid in majority Muslim countries, and particularly in Iraq? How do Muslims perceive Christian missionary activities and other Christian aid activities? What are the rights and responsibilities on all sides? How will Christian missionary activity affect the accomplishment of U.S. objectives in this region? What role, if any, should the government play on this sensitive issue? What is the range and advisability of government action in this area?
These are just some of the questions that we’ll begin to consider this morning. Many of you are experts on this issue, and I want to get to your questions very quickly in this dialogue this morning.
Let me now go ahead and call on our first speaker, Bruce Wilkinson. Bruce has served as senior vice president for international programs of the U.S. arm of World Vision since January 1999. Bruce, please tell us just a little bit more about World Vision, because some here may not know the history of the organization. Mr. Wilkinson has spent most of his career abroad in Africa and Europe. Most recently, he served seven years as World Vision’s regional director for West Africa, based in Senegal, where he oversaw relief and development efforts in eight countries. You have his bio in your packet. I won’t go into his other accomplishments. Thank you.
BRUCE WILKINSON: Good morning, and thank you, Melissa.
I will give a little brief on World Vision. It’s a Christian organization established in the 1950s, and we’re operating in over 100 countries worldwide, about 18-19 thousand staff worldwide working for World Vision. We do work in relief and development situations. We also work with the church, support the church, as well.
I think the dialogue and the question and answer time will probably be most useful to us all, so let me set the tone this morning by being brief in my opening comments. The topic of Christian mission and humanitarian aid is one that World Vision has regularly examined since its origin 53 years ago in predominantly Buddhist South Korea. As our relief and development programs expanded throughout Asia, and now to almost 100 countries, we continue to wrestle with the same core question. How do we best express our Christian faith, which is our motivating factor for ministry to hurting people, while being sensitive to religious and cultural differences?
The recent debate over co-joining humanitarian aid and Christian evangelism in Iraq is largely an American phenomenon brought on by the publicized comments of some high-profile conservative Christian leaders associated with humanitarian organizations. It appears that this controversy is not an issue for the people of Iraq, of Afghanistan or of any other predominantly Muslim country around the world that is receiving humanitarian aid from Christian humanitarian organizations. When confronted with humanitarian emergencies, suffering people, no matter their religion, welcome aid from all sources as long as it is appropriate and delivered in a dignified manner.
Today’s topic must also be considered over the long-term as well. Since the end of World War II, hundreds of Christian humanitarian organizations in the U.S. have been created by individuals, church congregations and Christian denominations to respond to human need. A significant proportion of aid by Christian organizations, both humanitarian and developmental, is delivered to people in countries where the Christian faith is a distinct minority. Rarely has aid been rejected because of its origin, either if its origin was a Christian agency or a congregation. World Vision is operational in predominantly Muslim countries throughout Asia, West Africa, North Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans, and in almost all cases World Vision has been invited to serve in these countries because of our services and our technical assistance.
Moreover, in some Islamic countries, our Christian identification has actually enhanced our work and our ability to interface with local communities and national governments. Unlike Western society, which separates the spiritual from the physical, Islamic societies integrate the spiritual into every aspect of their lives and societies. The same is true with most other non-Western societies. For this reason, the values of Christian organizations that integrate their faith in the service that they provide parallel the Islamic rationale for humanitarian assistance.
For example, here are the five motivating principles shared both by Christians and Muslims for their charitable work. The first is a God-centered worldview. The second, a holistic worldview which affirms the spiritual as crucial to human life. Thirdly, solidarity with the poor leads to responsive action and advocacy for the oppressed. Fourth, charity is a religious obligation. And, fifth, witness of faith in a way of life and expression is an obedience to God.
Most often it’s not Christian evangelism that Islamic leaders fear as much as Western secularization, where there is no expression of the Divine in the daily life. While most American and European policymakers may hold a secular worldview, much of the developing world lives in one of the great religious traditions. In a seminal book, in 1994, Religion: The Missing Dimension of Statecraft, author and editor Douglas Johnson filled an enormous gap by documenting the many positive contributions that religious and spiritual influences have brought and can bring in regard to peacemaking.
I would like to just quote a very brief paragraph at the beginning of that book: “Individuals operating on a religious or spiritual basis have been particularly neglected in the study of international relations. Such persons are often better equipped to reach people at the level of the individual and sub-national group, where inequities and insecurities are most often and keenly felt. They’re better able than are most political leaders who walk the corridors of power. They’re also better attuned to dealing with the basic moral issues and spiritual needs at times extending beyond the boundaries of their own faith traditions.”
I have lived and worked predominantly in Africa and in Europe, and in mostly Muslim countries in Africa. I would like to conclude by sharing a story from when we’d signed a seven-year protocol for World Vision to be able to work in an Islamic republic. I was with the prime minister of the country, we had just been on television, and after the television event, we moved off to the side. The prime minister said to me, “We are very pleased to be working with believers.” And I hesitated. I just hesitated, because I really didn’t know how to respond. Here was the prime minister, and here we had just signed a protocol which in the first line says World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization. The prime minister was well aware of who we are. We’re very overt with that. And he said, “We’re very pleased to be working with believers.”
The hesitation provoked the prime minister to continue. He said, “Listen to what I’m trying to say: I’m so pleased that we share a belief in God, and that so many other organizations are working here, and in fact what they’re doing is secularizing my society.” He said, “my society.”
And it was from that comment that I began to understand with a little bit more depth the perspective of leadership in Islamic republics, how they’re actually looking at their people, and how they’re looking at the delivery of humanitarian services. For me, it was a time of deep reflection, of a bit of congratulations for the team that was working in that country, because we had effectively established relationships which rise above the traditional religious divides.
And, again, I would just encourage us today, as we are thinking about this, it is a question of relationship first, and policy implications second. So, thank you, and I look forward to the question and answer time.
MS. ROGERS: Thank you so much. That was really a great introduction to not only some of the theoretical things we need to explore – the fear of evangelism versus the fear of secularism, for example – but also of the practicalities of how this is done. I’m really interested in that, and I know so many of you are, too.
We’re very pleased that Professor Sachedina is with us. He has joined us at other Pew Forum events, and lent his expertise and great insight into the issues, and we’re very pleased he is with us this morning. He’s a professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, and he has conducted research and writing in the field of Islamic law and theology for more than two decades. We welcome you this morning, Professor. Feel free to come up to the podium and tell us a little bit about the issues as you see them.
ABDULAZIZ SACHEDINA: Good morning to everyone. I’m really pleased to be with you this morning, especially with the issue of mission work on the agenda. I just came back from Amman on Monday night, and we’ve been working with the World Conference for Religion and Peace in establishing humanitarian services, and also helping religious communities to build bridges. But these are all Iraqis from Iraq, and we had the Christian denominations, and the Muslims representing the Sunnis and the Shias from Iraq. And we were both listening and guiding, because it was important for us to build a consensus in the faith communities and how they can work together in order to improve the situation. As we know, there is a crisis of humanitarian services at the moment, and there are different groups working on it.
And to my horror and shock, very little attention is being paid to the women’s situation, except for Zaniab Salbi from Women For Women International. She is the one who has established a women’s center in Basra now, and she is working with Iraqi women. As you know, Iraqi women have been the real victims of the government of Saddam for the last 30 years, and also the loss of the men of the house, sons who just disappeared; it is a horrifying situation that they’re living with.
In the midst of all this, there is a lot of suspicion about mission works and missionaries working. I must admit that I’m the product of missionary schools in Tanzania. I was educated in St. Joseph’s Convent, so there have been very many more positive elements in the Christian mission work around the world, I think. The only unfortunate part was that they were somehow connected with the colonial powers. They supported them, they helped them, the protected them. And there was the superiority complex that I used to hear, even in Kinshasa, for example, that the Christian missions staffed by the whites did not usually look very favorably at the black traditions, at black Africans. So, there was this resentment in Africa especially.
When you come to the Middle East, also, you find similar things happened. By the way, some of the best Arabic grammars were written by the Catholic schools in Beirut. So, you really know that they have made lots of contributions to the development of Middle Eastern societies, but they were also supported by the French government, for example. The Catholic mission was always under the protection of the French government in Lebanon itself. So, you really have this unfortunate connection with the colonial powers and what they did to the peoples.
One of the metaphors that’s being used today very loudly is the metaphor of occupation, this occupation is by the U.S. government at the moment in Iraq. And that has repercussions all over the Middle East, because it is seen as another period of a kind of neo-colonialism entering the scene. It was debated greatly at this meeting in Amman. Muslim leaders were, on the one hand, aware of the need for the humanitarian aid (and they are very appreciative, by the way, of the Christian churches) and, on the other hand, suspicious about what’s behind the humanitarian aid. After all, Christianity does teach charity and compassion, and whatever the evangelical might be thinking about converting people, the basic ethics is based on “Love thy neighbor as you love thyself.” And I think it is appreciated. But there is also a suspicion of what’s behind that humanitarian aid.
There was a lot of debate in the Amman meeting about whether the Christian missionaries who are coming into the country at the moment, when the country doesn’t have a government, doesn’t have order in place – What should be their role? Would they be controlling the minds of the people who are vulnerable as it is?
When you are in a situation, a dire situation, when you need even basic medicines, you need basic services, the churches have been providing that kind of help, and therefore there is– On the one hand, they want them to come in; at the same time, they’re also aware of what evangelical leaders are saying about Mohammed, about the Koran, about Islam, and that there’s a lot of hatred of Islam. It is perceived, erroneously in my opinion, that the present occupation and situation has been created in the Middle East by an anti-Muslim, anti-Islamic stream in the U.S. government. As an American, I can say that that’s not the case. But that’s the perception. Ultimately, the U.S. is seen as a Christian power, because people do see the connection between religion and the state, and they do see an integrated society, which we might not see. And, therefore, America does, I think, in their perception, stand out as a Christian nation, as a Christian nation that is anti-Islamic at the moment. Therefore there’s a lot of suspicion of what exactly the missions are trying to accomplish.
Moreover, I think everything is being transmitted into Arabic. If you open the Lebanese channel, which is the Hezbollah channel, and it is conveying the message, and when they talk about the evangelicals, they don’t usually present a favorable picture. They do say these are the enemies of Islam, they are insulting the Prophet, they are insulting the Koran and all these things. So these are the perceptions that play out in the society. And I think the missions are confronted with that kind of situation, of how to undo the colonial period, how to rewrite the history so that they appear as neutral parties who are interested in humanitarian aid only.
There are also competing missions within Islamic communities themselves. And there’s a competition of services, which is good in a way for the people, so they can benefit from both services, because they know that corrupt governments in the Middle East have not paid attention to the social and political needs of the people, especially in the social services area. The government has utterly failed. If you just study the Egyptian record of what they are doing, you’ll find that compared to Muslim philanthropic organizations, they’re not achieving much. So, you have parallel systems. There’s the social services provided by the government, which is utterly failing to fulfill its role because it’s replete with all kinds of corruption, and then you have this religious Muslim organizations, Muslim Brotherhood being part of that. We might think they’re fundamentalists, but they’re certainly helping out the people. There is a group of Muslim physicians, a group of women Muslim physicians, who are working with the people. So, you have this competing element between the Christian mission work, which is also geared to providing those kinds of humanitarian services, and they appear to be trying to win the souls over.
Theological traditions are very exclusivist, including Islam and Christianity. I know what my students tell me, and they’re worried about my salvation. I remember one of my best students coming to my class and telling me, “Mr. Sachedina, this book condemns you to hellfire.” He was holding the Bible in his hand. I’m sure the students must be worried about whether Sachedina will he be saved. So, these questions are also very commonly discussed by the Muslims. We are the only people who will enter Paradise at the expense of all other human beings. How do we handle that kind of exclusivist claims? And there is no way, as I have discovered, to create what I call inclusive theology. Inclusive theology is very difficult to work with.
Another problem that is very much connected to the Christian view of the Muslims is completely negating Muslim faith. Muslims have at least accepted Jesus as a prophet – less than the son of God, but they have enormous respect for the teachings of Christ, and Christ is appropriated every day in Muslim piety. But we have not produced anything comparable with what Muslims have produced – I mean to say, we as Christians; I consider myself Christian-Muslim, because I have this very deep relationship with Christ myself. And I think we do look at Christ as an exemplar. There has not been a single statement about Mohammed or the revelation of Islam as being just for their own people. The church has not done it, whether it is a Catholic mission, or any other missions, they have not accepted the validity of the Koran or Mohammed at all. Quite to the contrary. You can swear upon the Gospel in the Muslim court, and your swearing is valid. And I think this is where the suspicion becomes even more pronounced. How can we respect them when they don’t respect our Prophet or our religion?
I think the media also, as we know, is quite negative toward Muslim militancy, and so forth, and I think all this adds up into the missionaries being targeted. And many times we have seen that happening. The missionaries working in Africa, or some other parts, were doing the good work of God, as we would say, and yet, there was a lot of suspicion of what they were about and what they stood for. I think we are dealing with a post-colonial syndrome situation, and I think the Christian mission work, however noble and however charitable it might be, still carries the stigma of being connected with one or the other occupying powers, colonizing powers, and that creates a lot of misgivings in the minds of Muslims.
As I heard quite often from Sunni and Shia leaders they all want to work with the Christians. But whenever we talk about the missions coming from outside, there is a fear that they might be up to something. I think to overcome that, the Christian missions are working hard, especially the World Council of Churches has been really giving a lot of positive images, and trying to work with the faith community. I think ultimately it’s very important to keep in mind that religious people can work together. And it is very, very important to keep that in mind, that usually pious people in any tradition can make a common front to fight the injustices that are around them. It has been commonly appreciated from that angle. Thank you very much.
MS. ROGERS: I’m so grateful that you were able not only to bring your usual insight, but since you have just come from the area, I know we’ll have a lot of questions for you about that. And I’m very intrigued by your mention of the question of whether religions that have exclusive truth claims can live together peacefully and coexist in an atmosphere of religious freedom. There’s been a lot of debate about this, and I’m hoping we’ll get to that question as the day goes on.
I want to invite next Kathleen Moynihan to be with us. She is an international relief and development manager with Catholic Relief Services. She currently serves as CRS’s deputy regional director for justice and solidarity for the Middle East and Africa, and she manages the organization’s humanitarian operations in Iraq. As you can see, we’ve been very fortunate to get people who are right at the heart of these issues today. And we’re grateful that not only Professor Sachedina, but I know also Kathleen Moynihan has traveled a great distance and just come off a plane recently. And she has been very good to join us this morning amidst all her travels. So let me invite her to the podium now.
KATE MOYNIHAN: I’m going to go ahead and stay seated; I literally just got off the plane. I think the professor stole my seat on the plane, so I was stuck back in the economy section. I just flew in from Baghdad last night. I came via Amman, and then from Amman to Cairo, and then here. And from the professor’s sublime overview of what’s happening, I’m going to give you perhaps some more benign account of what happens when applied theology, or applied social justice, transforms itself. And that’s pretty much the position that I represent, being a field team manager out in the Middle East and North Africa.
Catholic Relief Services was established in 1943 by the U.S. Catholic Conference to alleviate root causes of suffering. And I think that’s a very simple but very important element to our mission. It’s a need not creed mission. We do not proselytize, and we are not in the position, nor are we authorized, to proselytize. But we are part of an expanded mission of the Catholic Church. The demand of global changes and challenges that we face today give special urgency to answering that call, alleviating root causes, whether it’s a lack of water, lack of food, or as the professor and Bruce have both introduced, perhaps even a lack of understanding and a lack of tolerance.
We are the International Relief and Development arm of the U.S. Catholic Conference, and we draw upon social justice principles from the Catholic Church, and they are guiding principles that cross religion and cultures. Essentially, they’re about fidelity to the demands on relationships. They’re well known Catholic social teaching principles, and they provide us with a vision of what the world might look like. And that’s the kind of stuff that gets people like me up in the morning, and it’s the reason why we move our base of operation away from our families, and we live in zip codes that aren’t our own, and we try and learn new languages, and we struggle with the local cultures, because we believe that there is a better way to do this. And we draw inspiration from these principles, we draw inspiration from the faith, but we fall short, and we stop short of actively proselytizing, and trying to convince people to believe things the way we believe things. They simply motivate why I got on a plane, and why I don’t go to my family reunions in the summertime, because I’m too busy overseas.
So the principles are shared, and they cross cultures and boundaries, and they articulate values that are common among people who want to work towards peace and lasting justice. And I think the professor introduced something that’s probably the principal threat to that peace, and the principal threat to that justice, and it’s a lack of understanding, and it’s a lack of understanding between West and East, it’s a lack of understanding between Christian and Muslim. And I think the professor introduced an excellent topic when he thinks the West is synonymous in a large part of the Arab world with the Judeo-Christian community. Full stop. It’s oversimplified, of course, because we’re far more diverse than that as a community, and we have far greater and a far richer context than that, but that’s how it plays out in the Arab world. And so I thought that that’s what I would introduce now in terms of who I represented and the men and women that I have the pleasure of serving alongside of.
Our services include everything from food and water, emergency assistance, education. We basically administer sectoral programming aimed at whatever the principal threats to people’s livelihood needs are, but then we also stand ready to address structures of injustice. And we stand ready to speak truth to moments where there are either structures or policies in place that systemically deny women access to education, or perhaps there’s a policy in this country that perhaps does harm in some of the communities where we serve. So those are the types of things that we struggle with every day. We are faith-based, we’re Catholic, but I am not authorized by the U.S. Conference to proselytize, and they wouldn’t want me to do that either.
So thanks. I look forward to your questions.
MS. ROGERS: Thank you very much. You all have offered some very moving words in different ways, and we appreciate that very much.
We’re very grateful that Michael Lawrence could be with us this morning. He currently serves as associate pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church, and he is a fellow of the Center of Church Reform in Washington, D.C. Capitol Hill Baptist Church is in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention. The Southern Baptist Convention, as many of you know, has a long tradition of offering various aid, humanitarian and missionary activities through the International Mission Board. Michael Lawrence has a Ph.D. in history from Cambridge University and has studied and thought about these issues a good deal. And we welcome his comments now.
MICHAEL LAWRENCE: As one of the pastors of an evangelical church here in Washington, D.C., I’m often reminded of the great gulf that exists between the way I look at the world, the way I understand the world, and the way my neighbors on Capitol Hill understand the world, and maybe perhaps the way most of you put together the world and understand your place in it.
I had the opportunity, as Melissa mentioned, to live and work in Cambridge, England, for four years, and I grew accustomed to the sort of glazed look that would come over people’s eyes when they asked me about my topic of research, and I launched into an extended discussion of the details of religious reform, its affect and effectiveness in 17th century England. But, let me tell you, that’s nothing compared to the conversation stopper I’ve got now. When I respond, “Southern Baptist pastor” to the innocent query, “And what do you do, Dr. Lawrence?”, you can almost see the look of horror and betrayal that spreads across the person’s face, as if I’ve tricked them into a conversation that they really didn’t want to have today. It’s especially prominent when that innocent interlocutor is seated next to me on an airplane, as they often are.
I trust that no one has tricked you into coming here today, but here at the outset I do want to be very clear on how different my worldview is, both with respect to the dominant secularism of America and the worldview of Islam. I think it’s going to help you understand the position I’m going to advocate this morning and why I advocate it. As an evangelical Christian, I understand that this world, and every human being in it, is not the product of random selection, but is the deliberate creation of God. Further, I believe that human beings were specifically created in the image of God; that is to say, we were created with a purpose to reflect the character of God, and that we were given the capacity to do so. As our loving Creator, therefore, God has the right and responsibility to hold us accountable to accomplish the purpose for which He created us.
Now, it doesn’t take a genius to look around and see that human beings, both individually and collectively, have failed miserably at this task. We have all rebelled against our God and Creator. When we look at the privacy of our own hearts, we realize that we haven’t even lived up to our own standards, much less God’s. As a result of our sin and rebellion against a holy and infinite God, every human being, including every one of us in this room today, deserves God’s judgment, an eternal conscious torment, what we call Hell.
But the good news of Christianity is that in His love, God did not leave us without hope. He sent His own divine, spiritual Son to become a man. Jesus Christ is that man, and he lived a life not of rebellion, but of obedience to God, and he laid down his life on the cross, dying as a substitute for all who would ever repent and place their faith in him, taking upon himself the judgment that we deserve, that we might be forgiven of our sins. And to prove that God accepted this sacrifice, God raised him bodily from the dead. This is what I believe is true. This is the way I make sense of the world. And I believe that it is true, exclusive of all other religious claims. And I believe that it is true universally.
Now, I tell you all of this because I think it’s important for you to understand that to be a Christian, to become a Christian, is not to be born into a certain family or ethnic group, or even to be born in a certain nation, as we’ve already discussed about this being a Christian nation. It isn’t to go to church, it isn’t even to say a certain prayer. To be a Christian is to acknowledge your sins, to turn away from your rebellion, and to place your faith personally in Jesus Christ’s death on your behalf as your only hope of escape from the sure and certain judgment of God.
What does that have to do with the rights and the wrongs of missions and humanitarian assistance in Iraq? Well, I think it has everything to do with it. One of the great fears that have already been raised, helpfully, about Christian missionary activity, especially in the context of a post-war Iraq, where the charge of colonialism can be easily laid, is the fear of coercion, the fear of not respecting other people’s cultures, other people’s religious sensibilities. But, as what I’ve laid out I hope makes clear to you, the very nature of Christian conversion is that it happens where the threat of a gun, or the promise of an aid package, can never reach. Christian conversion happens in the interior of a man or woman, in his conscience, in his or her heart. Our hope in mission and humanitarian aid, one of our hopes, is certainly conversion. But I can’t convert anybody. Therefore, the goal of the Christian mission is not so much conversion, but communication. And our method is not coercion, but dialogue. We have a message to share – I just shared it with you – that we believe is good news. But it is up to the individual, in the privacy of his or her own heart, to decide what to do with that message.
So I’m not here this morning simply to allay fears about Christian imperialism, which by my view, as I’ve just laid out, is an oxymoron. I want to advocate, actually, that America should be actively promoting and defending the rights of Christian missions in Iraq, and throughout the whole world. That might sound like a particularly self-serving position to take. I understand that. But I want to suggest that in making that claim, and suggesting this position, I believe that I’m standing exactly where our Founding Fathers stood, as they launched the experiment in American liberty. It has become a commonplace in our day that religious freedom requires the sort of secularism that excludes any religious claims that are themselves exclusive or absolute, and that the maintenance of a civil society requires that we all believe that all of us are going to Heaven, or whatever your idea of Heaven might be. The fact is that this view, which is regnant in our media, and in much of our culture at large, is nothing other than the modern secular, mirror image of medieval Christendom, which believed that the maintenance of civil society required that everyone be a Christian and that everyone attend the same church.
As a historian of the Reformation, I can tell you that one of the greatest insights of that period was that neither secular governments nor religious authorities could bind the conscience of a man or a woman created in the image of God. God alone had that prerogative, as Lord of the conscience. John Locke built upon this insight, and the framers enshrined it in our Constitution. In a nutshell, and in very colloquial language, it means that I can believe that my neighbor is going to Hell, but as long as he sells me coal at a fair price and doesn’t steal my corn, I am happy to defend his civil liberties, in fact, to lay down my life to defend those civil liberties and to live in peace with him. After centuries of religious wars, the Protestant heirs of the Reformation, and especially Baptists, who spent many a long hour in European and American jails because they would not support the established church, these heirs of the Reformation championed the cause of true religious liberty as the only basis of a civil society. Along with that liberty came other liberties, such as freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, but at the root of these liberties was the primary liberty, to believe what you thought was true about God, about yourself and about your place in society.
Modern day Iraq, like many countries in this world, is a country composed of a variety of people who define themselves largely in terms of differing religious beliefs. If we have any hope of building a moderate Arab state, freedom of religion, including the freedom to convert – that is, one individual to choose his own religion – must be at the forefront of America’s foreign policy goals with relation to Iraq. To fail to protect this liberty is to fail in our responsibility to protect and promote all the liberties that we as Americans cherish and hold dear, that we as human beings cherish and hold dear.
MS. ROGERS: I’m sure it’s already clear that at every Pew Forum event we try to have a wide range of views. And I think we accomplished that this morning. And whenever we’re putting together an event I’m reminded that it’s not simply making sure that you have different faith groups represented, but also clarifying that there are different views within those faith groups. I’m sure that all here on the panel would recognize that within their own faith group there are differences of opinion. I know as a Baptist I’m always cognizant that Jimmy Carter and Jesse Helms are both Baptists, and so that is one illustration of the difference in Baptist life, and I’m sure we each could pick out examples in our own religious traditions.
There’s a lot on the table. I want to start with one question, then I hope that we’ll have the mikes handy for you, too, and especially members of the press – we want to make sure you get your questions in. We’re going to turn to you in just a minute.
But, Professor Sachedina, I wanted to ask you, having heard Reverend Lawrence’s remarks, if you could react to a few of the statements he put on the table about, and you can correct me if I’m misstating anything – the idea that America should be very active in defending the right of Christian missionaries and others (I would assume you would mean all missionaries – to spread the gospel, or whatever their understanding of their faith is). So there’s the proposition that America should be actively defending that. And then there’s your assessment regarding the concept of religious freedom being inculcated in the rebuilding of Afghanistan and Iraq. I know that there are efforts to write new constitutions in these countries right now. And I’d be very interested in your assessment of what you think is possible and advisable in terms of protections for religious groups.
DR. SACHEDINA: Let me start with the last question first, because I think we must keep in mind that Iraq has a long tradition of pluralism itself; there are different brands of Christianity, different denominations, in Iraq, even at this time. They were all represented in Amman. And there have been institutions overall, a very different scene from Afghanistan in many ways. The Iraqis are more used to working with one another, with different religious communities than, let’s say, in Afghanistan, which was homogeneously Muslim, and of a dominant Sunni tradition, even the Shia are in a minority. To my surprise, I found even the Shia were far more tolerant in the Iraqi situation than what I heard from the Sunni Muslim leaders, for example, who want to revive the kingship, to ask the King of Jordan to take over the political system, and even the governance of the Iraqi society. That having been said, I think we must keep in mind that we are not dealing with people who are naive as far as liberty of religion goes. It has been part of their experience, both in Lebanon and in Iraq, these are the two major paradigms that we have.
To ask the American government to support Christian missions will actually violate a very important distinction that we are making, not about secularism, but about secularity. And I must be clear about it. Secularity is when the government does not intervene, does not oppose, does not show any kind of antagonistic attitude towards any religious community. Our government is required by the Constitution not to privilege any particular tradition, but the church-state divisions are not set in the Constitution because of the fear of that. Rather, it is dividing this jurisdiction, that the public sphere must be maintained by the government without interfering into the religious lives of the people, into the religious lives of the communities. At the same time, secularity does propose that the jurisdiction of the religious matters must not only be limited to the religious institutions, but religious institutions should have a say to inform the public about the ethical and moral requirements, and the spiritual directions and guidance of the community. That secularity, by the way, is in Islam also, because Islam clearly divides–
In our study of the law, for example, we are told that God-human relationships are beyond human jurisdiction. That is between the individual and God. Even the Prophet has no say in-between. The Prophet is simply the one who delivers the message. Quite to the contrary, interpersonal human relationships are a function of the government and governance. So, you have a secularity that is built into the legal system as it is.
There is one concern that I think I share with you, which is the whole question of apostasy. And I’ve argued in my own book on the Islamic roots of democratic pluralism that the laws of apostasy do not apply in the Islamic legal system because there’s no church that can really define who has left the faith community. Since there’s no church, therefore nobody represents God’s rights on earth. God Himself reserves His right through the conscience of the human beings, which is very much in the Koranic language. There is a conscience to which God and human beings are connected. And conscience is not the image of God; it is the power that God has given to human beings to decide and to judge what is right from what is wrong. So it’s very ethical in that sense.
And we do, and the Koran does, the Hadith, the traditions do say that God created human beings in His own image. So we have been created. I think that’s why we have this important mission in this world. But to ask a government to support any specific religious denomination– We are a multi-faith community. Today, there are six million Muslims in this country. And they might say, All right, we believe in the Saudi brand of Islam, and we are seeking government support to support us to spread that brand of Islam somewhere in the Islamic world. It would be not only disastrous, but unthinkable. I think the government must remain free of any kind of support for any religious group. It should not intervene in the working of the religious faiths.
If my students come to me and say, “Mr. Sachedina, teach me how to pray,” I say, “What is your religion?” If one says, “I’m a Catholic,” I say, “Why don’t you go to a church?” If one says, “I’m Jewish,” I say, “Why don’t you go to your synagogue?” We are there to help them go into their own religions rather than saving their souls, because I think, as a Muslim, I have a much better attitude. I don’t consider a Christian to be in the hellfire at all, because the Koran says very clearly that it’s up to God to judge and to include or exclude anyone from his own mercy. Human beings should not be interfering at all. And I should not even entertain that notion in my mind that my Jewish friend, oh, poor fellow, and my Christian friends, oh, what a demonized situation. I’m not even supposed to think like that. This is the Koran that says that.
Therefore, I think that the American government should maintain its secularity and should not interfere in the case of Iraq, or any part of the world. Christian missions have been actively working without any government support all these years. Even during the British rule, or during the German rule, they sought the support of the governments, but they function much better without governments.
MS. ROGERS: Thank you. I think Reverend Lawrence would want to respond to what he meant by supported.
DR. LAWRENCE: Yes. When I say that I believe that America needs to be at the forefront of advocating the right of Christian missions, what I’m saying there is not that America should support and set up an established Christian church in Iraq, or any other country, or should financially support any denomination in any way whatsoever. What I’m arguing is simply America’s commitment to liberty and freedom must include, therefore, promoting everyone’s right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. As the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights says, which we as a nation are obligated by under the terms of international law, “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom either individually or in community with others and in public or private to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.” I believe that America is obligated both by international law, as articulated right there, and obligated according to the values of our own Constitution and founding principles to promote this kind of freedom.
I had the pleasure of being in the region just two weeks ago, so I’ve been back in the states for two weeks, enough time to get over my jet lag. And I was in some of the neighboring countries to Iraq. And I had the opportunity to meet with a group of students, some of whom came from historically Christian communities in that region, and they understood themselves to be Christian, others of whom were Muslim and others of whom had recently converted from Islam to Christianity. It was an extraordinary meeting.
One of the things that came out of that was, on the one hand, the realization that pluralism does not equal freedom or religious liberty. It is true, for example, that the Chaldean Christian community in Iraq has a 2000-year history. And for those who happen to be born into a Chaldean Christian family and are part of that ethnic group, they can freely be Christian. But if a Muslim sets foot in one of their churches, that Muslim takes his life into his own hands. He does not have the freedom to convert to Christianity.
I heard this very clearly from one student I met with who was from Yemen, who had converted to Christianity, and was doing everything he could to not go home. Another student from Saudi Arabia, who had converted to Christianity, and was manipulating his course work at the university where he was so that he wouldn’t have to go home. Because both of them knew that if the government didn’t kill them, their families might. That is not religious liberty.
Even if those nations in some way – Saudi Arabia does not – allow pluralism of historic faith communities, I’m arguing something much more profound, that is, the right to choose your own religion.
MS. ROGERS: I’m sure, like me, even just that last exchange probably touches off 50 questions in your mind that you want to ask. I don’t want to monopolize all the time here; I want to get to you all. Please wait for the mike to come to you, and if you would be so kind as to say your name and the organization you’re with, if any, and then feel free to fire away.
Q: I’m Bill McFadden. I choose not to identify my organization; it’s part of the U.S. government. I think the difference between the professor and the pastor is really the issue of transparency or codification of this freedom or right to worship as you please. Why does the professor believe that in a Muslim society it can’t be made transparent in a constitutional law?
MS. ROGERS: Is that clear enough for you?
DR. SACHEDINA: What is that question that was asked?
MS. ROGERS: Yes, can you explain a little bit more about what you mean by transparency.
Q: Transparency, that is, why does the professor believe that it is not possible to put into a constitution, say for a new Iraq, freedom of religion and the associated freedoms? This is not to promote one religion over another, but it’s simply to codify what he says the Muslims already believe.
DR. SACHEDINA: There are different teams working on establishing a constitution; I’m not a constitutional lawyer or somebody who advises the issues on that level. But I know there is already concern for religious freedom. As you know, even among Muslims, the Shia Muslims were not given full rights under the Sunni dominance of Saddam’s government. So, at the moment, the constitutional debates that are going on are being conducted between the American officials and the Iraqi officials, the Iraqi team, and that is to my own horror. I also go for consultation in the Defense Department as much as in the State Department – yesterday I was in the State Department. But I think the problem has been in seeking cultural legitimacy for the new constitution. You cannot impose from the outside a constitution within a culture that looks at the outsider as an outsider. Therefore, I always question this concept of dialogue. Dialogue is between equals. The moment I consider my fellow Christian believer as going to Hell, I already stopped the dialogue. It’s a monologue. I’m talking to him, rather than talking with him.
So I think that also happens in the constitutional revolution that is now taking place. It is already embedded in the constitution. What we need to find is how exactly it is to be applied. This is where we got the religious leaders to come together to find ways of building a civil society.
In the Afghanistan constitution liberty of religion is embedded, and yet it is culturally specific. And it is still a dominant group that says, We will tell you when we will be tolerant of you, and if you don’t agree with us, then we will not tolerate you. I’m not looking at the toleration part of it, which I think my colleague is saying here, that there’s this tolerance that I have. But as long as we can, on a civil level, on a level of civic responsibilities, share our responsibilities, I don’t mind having these differences of faith, and although I know that he will go to Hell, or at least I know that I’ve found my way, fine. But you can’t do that when you come to build a civil society in multi-faith communities. There you need more cooperation. And writing down in the constitution does not mean it will be translated into application.
Yes, this is true, there’s a fear if you convert to another religion. Of course, there are not many deaths known for sure, but there is a fear. Your family might take an action against you, because, after all, this sense of community is very important in the Islamic culture. So there is the fear.
Now, if we want to change Iraq to look at the reality of multi-faith communities the way we look at it, I think we need to communicate not by standing on the high moral pedestal, but lowering ourselves and saying, Let’s understand what exactly your concerns are, and let’s work it out. Our tone thus far is morally arrogant. And I think we need to work with that with ourselves. We Americans are seen as arrogant people. When we talk about these matters, we do appear as someone who’s imposing his value system. What we need to do is ask them, Is there any way we can help you? Can we create this? Can we work it out?
I think the approach of the World Conference on Religion and Peace was a very admirable approach, rather than imposing the values, as Americans do. Then you are actually asking the people, Tell us what your problems are, and we’ll help you out to analyze them and to see how the application can change.
MS. MOYNIHAN: Catholic Relief has been working in Iraq for over five years in consultation with the local caritas, Caritas Iraq, and that was exactly our approach. When there were rumblings ahead of time that there may be a U.S.-led strike on Iraq, our position in the Middle East was to go to Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Iran, and talk to our local partners and people on the ground, and let them know that what we would like to do as one of the largest American relief and development agencies is bring out expertise, bring our talents, bring our voice, bring our potential of funding sources to work together with them to help co-decide the types of things that would be relevant for them in their communities in a post-conflict, or a post-Saddam regime atmosphere.
We found that was very, very well received, and they were very surprised, but that was the tactic that we took. And what we’re finding now when we’re trying to operationalize is that as an American agency that draws its inspiration and has a faith-base, but does not proselytize, we’re finding tremendous space to do something that the Catholic bishops have asked us to do, which is alleviate the immediate needs of the people. And we have the space to do that because of something the professor talked about earlier, our intent is very clear. Our intent is not to convert someone. Our intent is to make sure you don’t starve tonight, our intent is to make sure that your baby has some clean water or some nutritious food, or a good health program. That’s our intent.
So the question that compelled me to get on the plane and come here today was, Under what conditions should the American nongovernmental organizations provide humanitarian assistance in those particular majority Muslim countries? And for me it was very simple: It’s because these are the principles that this country stands for. We’ve always stood and tried to serve people that were in need, and we step forward when times are difficult, and we come to deal with the people who didn’t necessarily always agree with us; but we did agree on one thing: We agreed that people had a right to live a life of dignity.
I think these larger issues, the back and forth between Michael and the professor, I think that these are the higher-end civil society questions, and we don’t see it as a zero-sum game. This isn’t to suggest that because Catholic Relief Services is not a proselytizing agency, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s zero-sum space for other people to go out and advance things that they care about. I’m saying that, as a practitioner who has done this for 11 years – and I come out Bosnia, most recently Kosovo, several years in Jerusalem, and now based in the Middle East – what I think is important in these manmade disasters, and points in time immediately after those disasters, it should not be about pointing a finger and telling somebody what to do; it should be about your advanced, civilized, sophisticated, cosmopolitan community. We are one. It is a question of, How do we move these things forward? I think that is the best expression of any community of faith, any community that has values and principles, that get men and women on planes, whether it is to defend it, like the military has, or people like myself and Bruce who get on to distribute humanitarian assistance, because that’s also a dimension to the kind of community that we represent.
MS. ROGERS: Thank you so very much.
Yes, I want you to ask your question here, and then back there.
Q: Yes. I’m David Evans, and I work in the office of International Religious Freedom in the State Department. And I have a question about the two different approaches I’m hearing here. One approach is doing humanitarian or development work as an expression of one’s beliefs, whether they’re secular or religious; the other approach is doing that work as a manifestation of one’s beliefs while manifesting one’s beliefs and incorporating them into the aid in a very explicit way. I’m just wondering, in the latter approach, when that manifestation of one’s beliefs is an expression of difference with the people with whom you’re working as opposed to emphasizing commonalities, how you translate that into a respect for their dignity? I’m sure you have an answer to that, but I’m curious how you articulate it.
MS. ROGERS: Thank you very much.
DR. LAWRENCE: Well, first of all, let me be clear. I don’t speak for the International Mission Board, which is the mission board of the Southern Baptist Convention. I’m just one local church pastor of a church who is in friendly cooperation with that agency. So, I really can’t tell you anything about what the Southern Baptist Convention and the IMB is doing, other than what you can read for yourself out on the Internet under official press releases.
I do know, just to speak practically about what Southern Baptists are doing, by the middle of last month, the relief agency arm of the IMB, which is nothing in size in comparison to the other relief agencies represented here this morning, had sent something on the order of 95,000 70-pound boxes full of dry food stuffs, flour, sugar, lentils, tea, rice. There were no tracts in those boxes. On the outside, there was a label that said, “A gift of love from Southern Baptist churches.”
MS. ROGERS: Michael, you might explain what a tract is.
DR. LAWRENCE: A tract might be a little booklet that explains the gospel in written form, and calls people to respond in repentance and faith to place their faith in Jesus Christ. So, it would be a written method of evangelism.
There was nothing like that in those boxes. There weren’t even Bibles in these boxes, just foodstuff. On the outside was this label that said, “A gift of love from Southern Baptist churches in America.” And in Arabic, a quote from John’s Gospel, from the first chapter, with says: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.”
Those boxes then were delivered, for the most part, to Christian churches in Iraq, part of this historic pluralistic community, for those local Christians on the ground to then deliver and distribute the food to the needy citizens without any regard for creed. You don’t have to be a Christian to receive the aid. You don’t have to come to church to receive the aid. You simply have to need the aid.
I do want to be clear on that aspect, that as an evangelical Christian, I support the Southern Baptist approach. I don’t see an antithesis between humanitarian aid and the right, then, to dialogue and to have a free exchange of ideas about what is true, about God and human beings.
Do Christians need to be extremely sensitive as they engage in that latter activity? Absolutely. To give you one example, two weeks ago I was in a nation I’m not going to identify, but it had a real mixture of Western and fundamentalist Islamic cultures. And it was shocking to me to see the way Americans and Europeans walked around in that society in an incredibly insensitive manner, particularly the way women dressed. Christians, as they move into and walk into another culture, need to become students of that culture. They need to understand what matters to that culture. They need to build bridges and think about where there are commonalities, at the same time being clear on what the differences are in our worldviews. Then they need to think hard and long about how to communicate those differences in a way that respects the person’s conscience. Again, conversion may not be coerced, but then, also, it is communicated in a way that is culturally sensitive.
So, there are no easy answers there. One clear answer, though, is, I think it’s important that we not in any way connect a belief or sympathy to belief to the reception of basic humanitarian aid. That would be truly manipulative, and we would want to avoid that at all costs.
MS. ROGERS: I hope maybe later we’ll get to talk about the guidelines for Christian-Muslim dialogue put out recently by the Institute on Religion and Democracy, an evangelical organization. I’m very interested in Professor Sachedina’s reaction to those guidelines, if he knows about them.
But first, yes, someone in the back here.
Q: David Masci. I’m a reporter with Congressional Quarterly. I would like to follow-up on and expand upon something that the panel has already touched on a little bit, and that is this idea of pluralism. Some scholars of the region, people like Bernard Lewis, have talked about their pessimism about the prospects for democracy and pluralism, with regard to Iraq in particular, but also in the Islamic world generally. And I wondered, especially since it sounds like at least almost all of you have just been to the region recently, what your personal impressions are as to whether you’re optimistic or pessimistic about the prospects in Iraq for democracy and for pluralism. I’m especially interested in whether you think that the kinds of things the administration has been talking about – setting up a real democratic state within the next couple of years – is realistic in post-war Iraq? Thank you.
DR. SACHEDINA: I think that’s one of the challenges that the Muslim societies are faced with. And I don’t usually define them as fundamentalists and modernists; those are brands that can be seen in any of the communities. I am branded by my Hebrew University colleagues as a fundamentalist, but I don’t know if I am one. So branding or labeling people with these doesn’t help us very much.
What we are working with is a situation in which there is a triumphalism, a mentality of empire that predominates in the Arab-Muslim mind, that we were a successful empire, we were a successful civilization, with a pluralism in that civilization, relatively speaking. We did much better than medieval Europe, because the Koran did provide grounds to say that other religions also could save their followers; that was a breakthrough. But in the political victories that the Muslims experienced, it has become part of the mentality in the Islamic world that we will regain that empire that we lost once.
Therefore, it would appear as if there is no need for us to find principles of coexistence between peoples, which is pluralism. Pluralism is defined as something that enables different communities, different peoples, to live together and work towards what we call a common terrain in ethics and morality. This is the challenge we are working with, and I would say that I disagree with Professor Bernard Lewis. I do read him very carefully, I enjoy what he writes, but I don’t agree with him. Orientalists worked with the texts that were dead. I’m working with the people who are living. And therefore, there’s a difference between what I say and what Mr. Bernard Lewis says, because he depends on the textual study of the civilization. The text doesn’t speak about the people. The people need to tell us what they say about themselves. And here, I think, we find that there is a recognition that we need to be democratic. Should we be democratic as America is? No, we don’t want those freedoms that would kill our family relations, that would take away our communities completely, becoming modern in the sense of becoming completely individualistic. They don’t want to do that.
What we need to learn is that there is a principle of civil society in the Koran itself. This is what we are now doing with them, trying to use the resources that they recognize as their own resources and speak to them on their own terms. This is where your question comes of what about the differences: How do we deal with those? Within the religious community, a Sunni Muslim would say, Shia are all wasting their time; this Paradise is for the Sunni Muslims. And Shia might do the same thing, let alone other communities. How do we work this out, these differences?
I deal with the critical history of how exactly Muslims need to recognize human dignity as the principle of social organization. And if we can do that, and if the Koran can support it, then there’s a way to defeat the fundamentalists on their own terms, because once you cite the Koran, once you cite the tradition that they hold sacred, then they don’t have much to say. And I think what we have been successful in doing this; Prince Hassan, by the way, is instrumental. He is the chair of the World Conference on Religion and Peace, and we have been working on this. And my own book, The Islamic Roots of Democratic Pluralism, is being translated into Arabic now.
That’s what we are trying to do. And I think there’s a group of people who are working along those lines, and the U.S. government and the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, we are working with different societies – Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon, and we are also going to have some workshops in Iraq. We are really concerned about the liberty of religion. But freedom of religion should be based on human dignity and human freedom of conscience, which the Muslims will have to re-appropriate from the Koran, which they’ve forgotten in their empire mentality. We were once an empire, and we were once ruling this whole world. And I think once that disappears, then we can see change. That’s why I’m cautiously optimistic, if that were to come true.
DR. LAWRENCE: If I could just add, the project that Professor Sachedina outlines there, I would wholeheartedly support, because I understand, of course, that the issue isn’t simply the issue of freedom of religion, but understanding that this basic notion of human liberty, as men and women created in the image of God, who have fundamental freedoms in relation to God, such as, not simply religion, but also the rights of women. For example, in much of the Islamic world, not necessarily all of it, women do not have the freedoms that they have here; that’s well known; they are considered half a man. Homosexuals are routinely brutalized. Criminals are routinely denied protection against cruel and unusual punishments. So in my own mind, not simply as a Christian, but as an American, all of these things fit together as a whole, and it is incumbent upon us, as American foreign policy makers, and in the execution of that foreign policy on the ground, to work for a foundation for establishing all of those rights.
MS. ROGERS: Professor Sachedina, correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe the Muslim religious community is a decentralized one, differentiating it against the Catholic Church, for example, which has a more hierarchical structure. So in terms of your efforts to recapture these principles, how does one, within the Islamic religious community, begin to disseminate these ideas? Maybe your institution has developed some practical ways of doing this?
DR. SACHEDINA: We are closely analogous to rabbinic Judaism. Our scholars are important, they know the law, they know the tradition. We don’t have the Church, but we still have our loyalty to the scholars. What we’re trying to do is get the scholars converted to our ideas. It’s not easy, but they’re open; they’re open to see it. Is there any other way of reading the scripture? When the Koran says that the people of the Book – that is, the Christians, the Jews and the Sabians – will be saved, are we then to take this as an abrogated verse to the verses that speak about killing an infidel, for example? We are bringing this all together, providing what we call historical context to the Koran, which is not very normal. We are providing a historical context for the texts, which is something new in our study and our efforts, and it is catching up.
We have supporters in Iran. Imagine in Iran! Now, Shiaism is very much like Catholicism, by the way, because Qum is the Vatican, Najif is the Vatican in some ways. These cities are where we have our Shia authority, our popes, but we have several of them, six or seven or eight of them, and therefore you do have an influence and a sense of unity somewhere. Sunni Islam is more rabbinic in that sense, with less centralization. And unfortunately, Sunni leaders are very much controlled by their governments, so they’re not seen favorably by the people.
So we’re trying to somehow do two things: make these scholars independent of their government paychecks, and also convert them to the civil society idea, saying that this is not a Western importation; it is native to the culture, it is native to Islam. I think we are making some breakthroughs. I’m not totally optimistic. I’m 60 already, so I don’t know whether I’ll see these changes happening while I’m still living, but I certainly think that we have sown the seeds and on the very firm grounds.
Q: Recently you gave a speech before the CSIS, where you identified your voice as a dissident voice there in the region. It was probably the dominant voice here in America among dissident scholars. I’m just curious why you’re hopeful that that voice which is music to the ears of Westerners is actually gaining traction in the Islamic world?
DR. SACHEDINA: I’m seminary educated, so I’m a seminarian cum university professor. These credentials are extremely important in a Muslim society. If you speak, you must speak with authority about knowing the text, and I think this is where I’ve been able to combine the two scholarships in a way. That’s my source of credibility, while others might not have that. Some dissident scholars are not accepted that easily. I’m also the imam at the local mosque in Charlottesville, which is a Sunni mosque. I’m a Shia by my birth, but I’m allowed to lead, and this is a Saudi controlled mosque. So that’s quite a jump in liberty, you know, and liberal interpretation. And I think being accepted in the local community as an authentic voice is also reflected in the international scene. It’s very important to be like that. Otherwise, you’re right, dissident scholars have no credibility.
Q: Paul is my name, of the Lutheran church. A question to Ms. Moynihan of Catholic Relief Services. I understand your position on non-proselytizing, but sometimes a distinction is made between evangelizing and proselytizing, proselytizing being a little bit more forceful, with some manner of compulsion connected with it. But I understand Dr. Lawrence to have been saying that the purpose of humanitarian assistance is to allow the type of communication that would allow the sharing of the good news. That is the purpose of humanitarian assistance, if I understood that correctly.
DR. LAWRENCE: One of the purposes.
Q: But, I would wonder if in delivering humanitarian aid to Iraq whether it would be possible for an organization like Catholic Relief Services to work together in a coalition with an organization that represented that position, on the evangelical side?
MS. MOYNIHAN: That’s an excellent question. First of all, the position of Catholic Relief is the position of the Catholic Conference. We were set up to be an expanded mission, so it’s not as though the lay community and the priests and nuns that work for Catholic Relief Services have anything against those who don’t believe that it’s important. It’s simply not what we were established for. Our mandate is a need not creed mandate. And it’s closer in line to what the professor was talking about, your line about the foundation for social justice being connected to dignity and livelihood and threats to livelihood and alleviating those root causes of suffering. I think that in an Iraqi climate right now our strategy is to work with our local counterpart. In other disastrous situations we have often partnered with organizations that have something unique to bring to the relief effort. And so if there were a particular skill or technical set or outreach capacity or delivery capacity or some element to the relief intervention that Catholic Relief Services, through its 60 years and thousands of people and networks on the ground and our other implementing partners, that was missing, I think we would seek out other organizations of good will.
But, in terms of specific partnerships in Iraq, I think at this point in time it would not be a strategy to be actively partnering with organizations that were engaged in evangelical or proselytizing work, precisely because of the wishes of our local partner and the local Catholic church and the Chaldean bishops and the different community members that we work with. I see Bruce nodding his head. We have been asked to be very sensitive to the fact that this is a very raw and new experience for the people on the ground there, and that right now it’s a matter of getting aid to people who need it. If it’s complicated by agendas and suspicions– This is an incredibly nuanced and over nuanced community. It’s an oversimplification to say that, but it’s the best way to explain it to people who haven’t been there. Now is not the time to be mixing those messages. Right now is a time to be addressing and alleviating immediate needs of people, women with children, babies that are being malnourished. The most recent UNICEF report predicts a two year acute, and a five year chronic situation for children. This is not a time, at least for the purposes of the reason why Catholic Relief was created, to be off having other agendas. We need to be very clear, and we need to be very clean in terms of the intent of the humanitarian assistance.
MS. ROGERS: Thank you.
I wanted to ask, Bruce, would you mind commenting on whether World Vision approached the situation in Iraq any differently than the situation in Afghanistan? And how does World Vision approach this question of evangelism being a part of humanitarian efforts? Does that vary with the situation?
MR. WILKINSON: Certainly. Thank you. I believe the approach of World Vision is very similar to Catholic Relief Services. We do believe that the delivery of humanitarian assistance is an expression of God’s love, and in that expression of God’s love, people can read and understand that this is, in fact, the right thing to do. People’s needs are actually foremost, before anything that can be identified as creed, as Kate rightly pointed out. The real issue that we have to get to in the humanitarian context is that many times the faith-based organizations have a certain motivation which is motivating their staff and their understanding. For Catholic Relief Services I believe it’s the same as with World Vision: We believe Christ has called upon the organizations to extend themselves and to minister to people that are in need, foremost.
We’re currently in Iraq in both the North and in the western areas. We’re responding only to need at this point. And what we’re looking for are partnerships where we can work with indigenous organizations to work the whole aspect of how you witness to your faith, because these organizations, whether they’re a church or whether they’re other organizations, they know how that is to be communicated within that context. Any time you begin to fabricate your own ideas in terms of a Western influence – many times we’re perceived as that – then of course that will be picked up.
I want to go back to the constitutional piece on culture. Again, it ties right into humanitarian work. The constitutional piece on culture, I believe, is extremely important. The language that is used around this is important; our words do make our worlds. And we do not speak the language of the people in Iraq, mostly, from the West, and part of what their conception of the world is understood and shaped through their language. When you start to look at and understand culture, as culture would apply to a constitution, we have to be very careful to link the constitution to the cultural representation that exists in Iraq.
We also have to link the humanitarian response to the appropriate cultural mechanisms that would be delivering humanitarian assistance in this situation. And therefore, we have to do it through community-based approaches. That’s why we’re always consulting with community-based groups. And any time an external agency goes into any one of these environments, that is extremely important. Yes, there is the time element, there is the urgency of it, but at the same time, you have to put all of your power and will in an organization to find an appropriate cultural mechanism to assist in that delivery. Why? It’s not just because it’s appropriate at one point, but it becomes culturally rooted within that context, and then it’s picked up and it’s perpetuated, it’s sustained. It doesn’t just become a one-time intervention. Many organizations have the one-time intervention. You need to sustain that and create the civil society movements which connect, and then it’s ongoing, and then people are taking care of their own people. It’s no longer an external assistance mechanism which is needed. It becomes part and parcel of the society or the culture.
Again, I would love to see this embodied in the constitution. I think it’s extremely important that this whole concept of humanitarian assistance, volunteerism actually permeates the culture in an appropriate way, and is represented and codified in the constitution.
MS. ROGERS: Thank you so much. A question back here.
Q: Hi, I’m Mike McManus, I write a column called Ethics and Religion. I would like to hear specific comments from all four individuals about Franklin Graham and his approach in Samaritan’s Purse. Do you support what he is doing or not?
MS. ROGERS: Who wants to start?
DR. LAWRENCE: I may be the least familiar with his approach. I do know that his organization has been fairly successful in setting up a number of hospitals in Afghanistan without much controversy whatsoever. I do know he is also on record of saying some very culturally insensitive things. Pardon me?
DR. SACHEDINA: Religiously insensitive.
DR. LAWRENCE: Religiously insensitive. Yes, religiously insensitive. Beyond that, you’re going to have to be more specific about what you want me to comment on.
Q: Well, should he stop speaking in this religiously insensitive way? That’s a specific question. Should he be providing the relief in the way that the Catholics and World Vision are providing it, or should he be providing it with the hope that he’s going to evangelize people away from this “evil religion,” as he puts it?
DR. LAWRENCE: I would say that he should definitely stop being insensitive. I’m a big fan of sensitivity in any context. But, no, I don’t think he should give up his other goal, of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. I don’t see these two activities, of providing humanitarian assistance and dialoguing with people from other faiths about what we hold true, to be in opposition to one another, or necessarily exclusive of one another.
MS. ROGERS: Do others want to comment?
MR. WILKINSON: I really don’t have an additional comment. I think the sensitivity was egregious, I think it should not have happened. We try to build relationships within the work that we do. Relationships are foundational to everything that we do in terms of the humanitarian community, and those relationships need to demonstrate respect and dignity for others. It’s just a basic human tenet. So, again, we certainly also would support the energy and the effort that’s going into providing for the needs of the Iraqi people, through Samaritan’s Purse and through other organizations. We certainly believe that all people have a right to be motivated by their faith and to provide for others. So, again, we would identify with the continued assistance into Iraq, but we believe that that should be tempered with a more mature approach.
DR. SACHEDINA: I just want to point out that it’s not only insensitivity that’s being taken very seriously by the Muslims. I’ve lived in many cultures in the world. I’m a citizen of the world, so I speak about 11 languages. I’m learning modern Turkish now. Of all the communities that I’ve seen in the world, I think Muslims tend to be extremely sensitive about what we say about their religion, about their Prophet, about their book, and their reaction is extremely, sometimes, emotional to it. Mr. Graham’s last comments were transmitted into Arabic and Persian and all other languages, and it gives us and Christians a very bad image, and that’s not the way to convert people, or even to share the news with them. I think it has to start with mutual respect. And I think since that is lacking, I don’t know what Mr. Graham would achieve at the end of the day. I love Jesus enormously, and I read the New Testament as my source of inspiration. I just love the text. And I think that when I hear a Christian leader come and say these things about other human beings, it hurts me deeply, and that hurt is shared by others, too, in the Muslim world. And I don’t think that that can really help us in any dialogue.
The world today needs a dialogue, and dialogue must be based on the recognition of mutual respect and mutual dignity of human persons. If that is not observed, I don’t think I can ever teach about Christ to anyone, if I come with that kind of evil language. We have a beautiful story about Jesus Christ in the Muslim literature. One day Jesus was going with his disciples and somebody abused him, and his disciples said, “Master, why don’t you respond?” And he said, “A person can bring only that which is within him. I can’t do it. It’s not within me to abuse. I will never abuse.” And that’s the message that Jesus gives to us as Muslims. So when we find Christian leaders saying these things, it shocks us, to put it very mildly. I think it’s time for the Christian missions to understand this.
I was working with a Presbyterian mission, and I trained some of their students to go in the field to convert Muslims. It’s very interesting. My wife objected to it. But I said, No, I think I love Jesus. Even if they become good Christians, they’ll be good humans. So I think with all my experience, they’ve changed their ways of dealing with it, and we need to change our ways, I think.
I’ve seen this women situation is really a difficult situation, and I am constantly battling this, you know, with the constitutional committees, with the Women Waging Peace. I worked with them. I worked with the Defense Department. They have all these men sitting and discussing issues, and there are no women representatives, and I really worry about it, that if women’s voices are not heard at this critical stage, how are their rights to be protected? It comes in all kinds of minority religious communities, and if they are not represented, and we begin to speak for them, as Muslims speaking for Christianity, I think it’s a disastrous situation. And we are really working to be as inclusive as possible. But it’s not always heard. Human beings are hard to change.
MS. ROGERS: Truer words were never said.
Okay. Let’s see, we had a couple of questions over here.
I’m sorry, Kate, did you want to say something? Please go ahead, and then we’ll get the next question.
MS. MOYNIHAN: The only thing I would add at this point would be that I think on some levels I’m grateful, because I think it’s an opportunity for organizations, and people of this country, to have an honest conversation about where their money goes. I think the humanitarian assistance has this kind of honeymoon romantic relationship with the United States. Average people in this country are very good people. They do dig into their pockets. They do really believe they’re the good guys. They really would go to the ends of the earth to help people. We’re a bunch of good people, which is why sometimes I think you get very passionate folks who know this country but who are confused about what’s going on right now for us, in terms of policies and statements. So I think in addition to what’s been said by the others, I would say that I’m grateful at the opportunity for the people of this country to have a better understanding of the nature of aid, and the differences between organizations, and the differences between organizations that are secular versus those that draw their inspiration from a religion, versus those that are interested in either proselytizing or conversion, and then the differences within those categories between the different organizations. And I think there is a nice opportunity to get people to be a little bit more accountable about who they support and why.
MR. WILKINSON: Just following up on that, Kate, if you’ll allow me a really quick story. I was in a community in a predominantly Muslim country, and we had been working with another organization, a secular humanitarian organization, and at the end of this time of dealing with the community elders, I was called over to the side by this elderly gentleman. He called me and my colleague, who was from this other organization, over, and we were both Western. And he asked the question to my colleague, “Bill,” he said, “why are you here?” And Bill responded, “We’re here to help.” “Bill, why are you here to help?” “Well, we’re here to help, because it’s the right thing to do.” “Bill, why is it the right thing to do?” Now, here’s this gentleman, he’s just absolutely brilliant. Bill said, “Well, I just know it’s the right thing to do.” And so he said, “Okay,” and he looks at Wilkinson. He said, “Okay, Wilkinson,” and he asked me the exact same questions. And I responded exactly the same. But when he got to “Why is it the right thing to do?”, I said, “Well, my faith motivates me to be here, because I’m a believer in God, and God has called us to help one another, and to provide that assistance.”
And I just think that he was – no aspersions on the secular approach or the faith-based approach – but it was in that context that, culturally, all of a sudden he looked at Bill and he said, “Bill, you need to talk to Wilkinson.” He didn’t know us from– he was just brilliant, in terms of his humor and all. But, he just said, “Bill, you need to talk to Wilkinson,” because at that point it resonated with him, he understood, in a cultural frame, both from a religious and a cultural frame, he understood that question, and why I was there.
We deal often with more traditional societies that don’t have this dualism of splitting the spiritual and the physical. And I think we have to understand that we’re dealing with a much different mind set in this world than we currently have in our church-state divide that we bring, and also in our secular policymaking approaches to this world.
MS. ROGERS: Yes, I want to get two people over here. We’re starting to run out of time. I’ll try to get as many questions as I can before we go.
Q: Good morning. My name is John Pitts from the Heritage Foundation. My question is for the whole panel, and it’s regarding President Bush’s initiative to provide funding for the AIDS crisis in Africa and internationally. There are multi-billions of dollars that are going to be appropriated, invariably some of which will go to non-governmental organizations, and those that you represent yourself. Dealing with the AIDS issue in conservative Islamic countries I’m sure brings a whole new host of issues, and I’d like you to comment on specifically how does that affect your operating procedures? Do you follow your theological guidance on, say, distributing condoms, if that’s something that the church is against, but it’s possibly an effective way to combat the spread of AIDS, would you make that provision or not? And also, if you could comment on how you deal with talking about frank issues that have to do with AIDS to people of the conservative Islamic religion?
MR. WILKINSON: First of all, it’s brilliant that the president is advocating for a greater amount of resources for fighting AIDS. World Vision has been very active on this. In fact, I have to leave here today at 12:00, because I’m going over to the Hill for an event with HBO. I would encourage you to watch the feature presentation HBO has developed about the pandemic of HIV and AIDS. This event is over on the Hill, and we’ve got Senator Kennedy, Senator Hatch and a whole host of people coming in supporting this.
I don’t think we need to look at the divisive issues around conservative approaches or more liberal approaches to HIV and AIDS. We have people who are dying every day. I lived and worked in Africa for 17 years. I have seen the misery that AIDS has created. I’ve seen the orphans that are walking around, child-headed households, where children, 12 year olds are taking care of three and four of their siblings. There is an urgency to this, to put aside our political differences. We need to put these things away, we need to move, we need to have the resource allocated, because there is a huge problem out there. People are dying on a daily basis. Children are being orphaned on a daily basis. So I really think it’s imperative to us, in terms of, I believe, the humanitarian mandate or imperative, that we respond to the need and the suffering of people. I would encourage all of us here to streamline, to work tirelessly to help these people and put away our political differences on this issue.
MS. ROGERS: I know, Bruce, you have a hard deadline. Could I collect a few questions that are left here, and then ask each of the panelists to make very quick final remarks.
Q: Hi, I’m Niala Boodhoo with Reuters. You’ve shared a little bit about what Catholic Relief is doing on the ground, and I’m hoping you could give me a picture of what other faith-based humanitarian agencies are doing now in Iraq?
MS. ROGERS: Any other reporters we missed who want to get a question in, too? We want to get this gentleman in. Okay, please go ahead.
Q: My name is Kumar Lakivani. I work with a federal agency, but I’m representing myself here. I was born of a Muslim mother and a Hindu father, and I’m a born-again Christian. I wanted to clarify one thing, Dr. Sachedina. You mentioned that there’s not one khalifa equal unto the pope, and I beg to differ. His name is King Fahd, because he is the direct descendant of Prophet Mohammed, and he’s the host of Mecca and Medina.
The second thing you mentioned, that Christians do not recognize Prophet Mohammed, and why. And if you look at the way the holy books go, the Gita does not recognize Jesus or Mohammed. By the same token, the Torah does not recognize Jesus and Mohammed. The Koran recognizes Jesus as one of the prophets because it’s a later religion than Christianity.
By the same token, if you see Sunni Muslims, you, being Shia, understand that Sunni Muslims do not recognize Hassan and Hussein as khalifas, but Shias do. I wonder if in all your travels you have been able to encourage mullahs and imams and educate them that historic events are such that the Bible came before the Koran, so it doesn’t talk about Prophet Mohammed, but the Koran came after the Bible, so it does talk about Jesus Christ as a prophet.
A step further that you mentioned: Have you been able to, in your travels, challenge mullahs and imams that the world has changed in the past 1400 years, and the Koran can now be interpreted as saying that, in the eyes of Allah, all are created equal, including women.
MS. ROGERS: Okay, thank you. Let’s let each of the panelists answer those questions. I’m going to start with Bruce Wilkinson, because I know he needs to leave soon. Then let’s go down the row and let you all make any final comments.
MR. WILKINSON: Thank you, Melissa. I’ll be brief in terms of answering the first question.
We’re working in the Erbil and Mosul area, also in Ar Rutbah in the western area. We’re looking after internally displaced persons and providing what those people need in terms of the displacement that’s happened. We’re working with reestablishing the medical facilities, whether it’s a clinic or a hospital, we’re doing a lot. We’re also reestablishing school systems, and working that into an approach that strengthens the civil society elements, with parent groups that are interested and members of the medical professions who are interested in moving these pieces forward. And there are a lot of supplies going in, I can tell you that. There are tons and tons of supplies going in to meet the actual urgent needs. I think we also want to make sure we’re positioning ourselves so that we can be there for the longer term, in terms of helping rebuild the civil society and getting that fabric going.
I have no response to the second question.
I do want to say, I’ve appreciated being here, and thank you for the dialogue. I’ll stay as long as I can and listen to my colleagues, but if I do pop out, it’s not from disrespect to what’s being said, but it’s really a good, healthy dialogue to have. I believe, as Kate says, it helps bring to the surface the implicit assumptions and understandings that we all bring to these issues, and they’re very healthy to create dialogue around, as the professor has encouraged us to do, and that dialogue is absolutely essential. We’re all socialized in various methods and cultures, and we need to bring these together because we’re in a global community now, and I encourage us to continue this dialogue. And thank the Pew Forum for doing that.
MS. ROGERS: Thank you very much.
DR. SACHEDINA: I wanted to say something about the AIDS question. For a long time, I think that there was a denial of the existence of AIDS, in the ’70s and ’80s, in the Muslim world, especially in the Arab world. But now there is a clear recognition that there is a problem, a health problem, connected with HIV. So there is a better way of dealing with it rather than denying that there was no way. So it is openly discussed. There are workshops dealing with different parts of the problem. I work in biomedical ethics, and we are working on the question of how we can help people recognize some of the diseases, as a matter of confidentiality, and how it plays out in a society.
I can’t answer your polemical questions, because King Fahd is neither the descendent of the Prophet, nor is he a khalifa. He is simply the custodian of the holy cities, and he has no legitimacy whatsoever in the Islamic world. Hassan and Hussein are not khalifas. They are also recognized by the Sunnis as imams. They are imams, and a khalifa is a political leader. The problem with the Muslim imams and the mullahs is similar to the problem we are faced with in any community. We have plenty of those examples everywhere.
About your point that the Bible came before the Koran, therefore it does not mention the Prophet. I’m talking about the relationship between Christiandom and Islamdom. When these were the civilizations that fought one another for many, many centuries, there was a constant demonization of Mohammed by the Christian world. It was part of the strategy to fight the Muslim domination, because, after all, Vienna was threatened, and the Ottoman empire that was spreading gradually towards Europe. So there was naturally Islamdom and Christiandom creating what we call the instruments of demonization, mutual demonization.
But Mohammed fared poorly because, whereas Christ could not be attacked in any sense, because of the respect that the Koran had already afforded, Mohammed was ill-treated and has been ill-treated throughout Christian history. The scholarship is plentiful and I invite you to go and check the catalogues at the universities where there are many books about Jesus and Islam written by Christians. Joseph Parrinder, a Catholic, has an important book on how Jesus is seen in Islam. And I think it’s worth looking at Louis Massignon’s work on Christianity and Islam, and there’re many others. Louis Gardet is another Egyptian scholar writing in French. So there are plenty of books translated, and we should do away with this polemics that are prevalent in the communities of the believers. I can hear that from you, coming from this background, and born again, and all these things; they all add up into all this misinformation about the other.
The women’s situation, it is not the Koranic situation, it’s the cultural situation. The cultural is a male-chauvinist culture. And I think even our own culture, in some subtle ways, we still have our own discriminations. If the University of Virginia did not admit undergraduate women students until the 1960s, then you can imagine what else can we expect in other parts of the world. This is an enlightened institution in this country.
So we have in-built prejudices against women. Women are fighting back, and rightly so, demanding their rights. I think Muslim women, Muslim families, are also fighting correctly to reinstate their Koranic rights. That means the Koran is not the problem. It is the male-dominated culture that is the problem. It’s a patriarchal culture that is a problem, that doesn’t see women as partners. And I think Iranian women have shown very clearly what they can achieve, and how they can achieve it. So, we should not generalize the Muslim people all around the world. I think there are problems, like in any of those societies, Muslim society is not free of its own problems.
MS. MOYNIHAN: I also can’t speak to you personally. I can tell you a story about getting prepared for my first assignment in Iran and meeting with Elahe Massumi and several other women in the room. All of us had read a lot, and we had attended lectures, and done our due diligence as academics, but we wanted to ask that one question: What is it with the wives? We really wanted her to answer that question. And her answer to us was that the Koran spoke metaphorically in a poetic way about the ability to marry more than one woman, if you could love her, each of them, the same. And her answer to that was that it’s impossible to love the same. And she just left it there for us to muse and think about, and how the fact that maybe it had morphed for some of the reasons that the professor just outlined.
As far as your question, what I can share with you is that the aid industry over the past 10 years has developed a certain rhythm, and the donors, the U.S.A.I.D., their Bureau for Population Refugees and Migration and all of us have developed a way of responding, especially to manmade disasters, that follows a certain format and anatomy. In the early stages of disasters we try and do scenario planning. I think it could be easily said that we’re very, very grateful that the really huge humanitarian aid disaster that we thought was possible prior to the crisis didn’t happen. We would have seen people moving their way north through Syria, up to Turkey, over to Jordan. In fact, if you travel the road that the professor and I have traveled across from Amman into Baghdad, and probably some of the reps from the State Department have done this as well, the refugee camp at No Man’s Land is a very sad series of pup tents comprised of mostly Sudanese and Palestinian individuals who didn’t quite make it all the way into Jordan, but didn’t necessarily turn out to be the thousands and thousands of people fleeing Iraq that all of us had feared.
Now we’re in the business of trying to figure out how to peg our humanitarian and stop-gap programming so that we work in consultation with some of the transitional authorities, as well as try and stabilize existing networks that have been very successful at working underneath the regime structure. Everything that happened before wasn’t all bad, and that is going to be the part of the art and science, and it’s kind of a poet-warrior situation. You have to be careful about what you push aside in a post-environment, because not all of it was bad. It did function, people did take care of one another. Families still had children, they still got married. There were certain elements of this community that survived just fine. How do you find that space? That’s part of what we do right now.
On a practical level, I think the priorities are the medical industry, because of the sanctions and the Saddam regime, it’s plummeted, it’s a disaster. The hospitals and the supplies are a problem. Public health clinics have to be reactivated. So there are those concerns and elements. Obviously, the school systems are a priority. And I think part of keeping people in place and making people believe there’s a future in their community is making sure their kids are going to school in the mornings and getting an education. So that’s another element.
The food situation is not at this point in time considered a crisis. We’re not coming across any data that indicates that people are starving. There are at risk populations. There’s always the extremely vulnerable. There are elderly, there are disabled. I don’t mean to be cavalier. There are issues there, of course, especially for children and their malnutrition concerns, but it is not a food crisis of the scope that we’re probably looking at, for example, in Africa.
I think most of us are doing those kinds of assessments, we’re ground-truthing, we’re cross-referencing, we’re trying to work in consultation with other organizations on the ground. There’s also a U.S. government department for disaster response, DART, and they do good first canvassing of the situation. So we’re all working together. This is actually a highly consultative period for the relief crowd. We try and share notes, assessments, things like that. But the medical, schooling, those things seem to be priorities.
And then, of course, the penultimate is the rule of law, and security on the ground. I think even the coalition forces concede that it’s not a safe environment. There is no area in Baghdad or in Iraq that’s considered safe. The theater is not clean. It’s not completely open for anybody to just come in. We’re always advised that we do take enormous risks in traveling even that major artery from Amman into Baghdad, especially that last 130 kilometers, where there’s an Ali Baba that comes out and seems to be separating off aid cars and robbing them at gunpoint. So it’s quite an environment, and that’s the principal threat to administering assistance at this point in time.
Does that help you? And that’s not only the faith-based, that’s also lots of other aid agencies who are doing the same.
DR. LAWRENCE: Just on that AIDS question, I would say that I think the professor and I, all of us, might agree on this: In addition to very practical measures, such as the distribution of condoms, as a Christian I understand that God created sexuality to have its expression in the context of marriage between a man and a woman, and that any efforts to stem the spread of AIDS must include that kind of teaching, because it’s not a Christian view, it’s simple a clinical understanding that promiscuous sexual activity is a prime spreader of the AIDS virus. We would certainly want to see that be part of any sort of education. I think we would find a lot of sympathy from our Islamic colleagues and friends on the ground.
In terms of other faith-based aid, I can’t speak to that with any specificity at all. I would send you to SBC.net to get the details of what the denomination I’m affiliated with is doing on the ground. I told you a little bit about that, but I can’t really give you any more specifics.
In terms of your very specific question about a number of theological issues related to Islam, I’m not an expert on Islam. I would agree at one level with Dr. Sachedina’s comment that Franklin Graham’s comments about Islam are of the same type, the same genre, generic type as the sort of venom that we hear coming out from many imams in places like Saudi Arabia and other places in the Gulf, in the Arab world.
One distinction I might make is, whereas Jerry Vines made some incredibly insensitive comments about Mohammed, and Franklin Graham also made some very insensitive comments about Islam in general, to my knowledge, I don’t know of Christian leaders calling for the death and destruction of Muslims in the same way that you hear regularly in news reports coming out from religious leaders in the Arab world, not here in America, but in the Arab world, calling for the actual death of Americans. That would be a nuance that I would want to put on that. Though I do believe they are generically the same kind of statement, one is much more dangerous.
Finally, I think the comment I would like to leave you with from my perspective is that in advocating the right for people to choose their own religion, in many ways what I’m speaking to is the fact that culture itself is not sacrosanct. It is not absolute. We’ve talked, helpfully, I think, about the ways in which we need to be culturally sensitive, and find ways to articulate ideas in culturally appropriate ways, and yet no culture has a claim on truth. No culture can say, We’ve arrived; there’s no place where we need to be reformed or changed. Our own Western culture is a great example of that, in which racism had become culturally instantiated in our society. And our culture had to recognize that failure and change. Culture is an expression of the people’s aspirations and hopes and values, but also an expression of their failures.
So in advocating the right of people to choose their own religion and, therefore, the right to Christian missions to be active in the Islamic world, in many ways I’m just calling attention to the fact that to the extent that the Arab world or the Islamic world, or the world that’s shaped by the Koran, to the extent that that culture restricts or denies freedom of religion, it is a failure of that culture that we must challenge, as Americans who promote liberty and believe in liberty, not because we’re Americans, but because we believe that this is the right of all human beings. This is something that we should be actively seeking to change in that culture, not from a position of superiority, because we ourselves have a long list of cultural sins that we’ve had to repent on, but frankly, from a position of solidarity with fellow human beings who we also want to see be free.
MS. ROGERS: Thank you very much. I want to thank our panelists for speaking very frankly about what can be very difficult issues. I appreciate the very excellent exchange today, from them and from you, as well. Our co-chairs are E.J. Dionne and Jean Bethke Elshtain, and they’re fond of saying that the Forum likes to clarify true disagreement and also try to uncover agreement that might have been hidden by mistrust or misunderstanding. And so I hope that we can continue to do that, in this area and many others.
I want to thank our staff, and in particular I want to thank, if you’ll just indulge me for a minute, Heather Morton. Heather took this idea and ran with it. She did tasks, large and small, magnificently. Please give her a round of applause. I’d also like to recognize the rest of our staff, who put this together very quickly and expertly, Grace McMillan, Heather [Morton], Kirsten Hunter, Sandy Stencel, Staci Simmons Waldvogel. Please stand, if you’re here. I want to just give them a round of applause for their very hard work.
Thank you for being with us. We hope to do more with this, and bring in more points of view as we move along. The transcript will be posted on our Web site so that you can read it. We’ll try to post as many links to these organizations, so you can read, and perhaps contribute to their good work if you’re not already doing so.
Thank you very much for being here with us today, and we look forward to staying in communication with you.