By Stan Friedman
SEATTLE, WA (September 15, 2010) – Andrew Larsen, an Evangelical Covenant Church minister who helps congregations foster interfaith dialogue, says vitriol aimed at Muslims betrays the love of Christ.
Larsen has engaged in cross-cultural dialogue throughout the world and currently is traveling the United States to help local churches reach out to immigrant communities.
He will present an eight-week series on “Extending Hospitality to our Muslim Neighbors” at Pine Lake Covenant Church from September 29 through November 17. He spoke Sunday at Lakebay Community Covenant Church in Lakebay, Washington.
“Why is it so important to mimic Jesus as we relate to Muslims today?” Larsen asks before answering his own question. “My simple answer – the alternatives have not worked. But beyond the practical response, we also betray the Jesus we claim to know and follow over and over again by our action or inaction, by not engaging Muslims in friendship or by acting as if they were the scourge of the earth.”
Islam is not inherently a violent religion, nor does being Muslim equate with being a terrorist, Larsen emphasizes. “There are terrorists who collapse Islam into a vehicle for political aims and redress of historical-social grievances, but that is a perversion of the essential teaching of Islam.”
Larsen notes that the local Imam “constantly denounces terrorism and wants me to be sure I know it has nothing to do with legitimate Islamic teaching.”
People seeking to portray Islam as inherently violent generally are taking texts from the Koran out of context in the same way someone might point to the imprecatory Psalms as evidence that Jews and Christians must be violent.
Christians who speak caustically of Islam forget that they are talking about individuals, including children who are growing up hearing the antagonistic attitudes.
During one of his visits to a local mosque, Larsen spoke at length with a father who tries to help his children deal with people’s caustic remarks about their faith. “He challenges his children to put the crazy comments about Islam in context and to take a mature position, not responding emotionally or ignorantly to those who perpetrate adversarial positions,” Larsen says. “He wants them to lead by example and behave in such a way that shows the truth about their faith.” The accompanying photo shows Larsen (third from right) during one of his many visits.
“Respect does not preclude sharing the gospel.”
Most Muslims have expressed “a dispassionate sense that they have dealt with this before,” Larsen says.
Larsen and other ministers who seek to build bridges with Muslims say that respect does not preclude sharing the gospel. In a recent Seattle Times article concerning efforts of pastors in the area to foster understanding with the growing Muslim community, Harvey Drake, senior pastor of Seattle’s Emerald City Bible Fellowship (a Covenant congregation), said he has had conversations during which the members of each religion were trying to convert the other.
“We chuckle about it,” Drake told the newspaper, explaining that he has the obligation and desire to help others come to the same faith in Christ as he has. “I don’t apologize for that.”
He added, however, “Even if we don’t come together on this religion thing, we’re still neighbors, still friends.”