The effects of 9/11 on religious communities has both strengthened and weakened relations between Muslims and Christians.
Up until 9/11, there were clear signs of cooperation between conservative Christians and American Muslims on moral and social issues—a coalition that has more or less broken down. A large segment of evangelicals have since become more antagonistic to Islam both on a political and theological level [see July/August RW]. At the same time, conservative critics charge that the growth of Muslim–Christian relations among more liberal Christians has encouraged a new syncretism and relativism, even coining the term “Chrislam” to target such interfaith activity.
Even if exaggerated, these claims do point to real changes that have taken place on the interfaith front. This could be seen in the current issue of the Christian left magazine Sojourners (September/October). One article features a church that invited Muslims to share worship space after 9/11, while another explores the possibility that many Christian and Islamic doctrines are compatible. These divisions over Christian–Muslim relations tend to mirror the American culture wars, but the situation is somewhat different abroad, particularly among missionaries.
In Christianity Today magazine (September), veteran missions scholar Dudley Woodberry writes that since 9/11 there is “increased resistance and receptivity to the gospel among Muslims, and increased hostility and peacemaking among Christians.” He has found that more Christian conversions take place in those Muslim societies where there is a high degree of militancy or where Muslim factions are at odds, even though persecution may develop. Peace-building efforts have expanded alongside evangelization programs. “Evangelical missionaries such as the Southern Baptists have, in general, opposed the negative stereotyping of Muslims in favor of a more cordial attitude,” Woodbury writes.
But 9/11 raised a new set of issues for missionaries. Security has become a key concern, with missionaries now receiving training in this area. The new concern for integrity in working with Muslims has led to greater transparency in mission agencies. Most noteworthy has been the increased number of students who want to be missionaries to Muslims and the diverse approaches to these missions. Some have stayed with the traditional method of requiring converts to make a clean break with Islamic culture, while others try to adapt the Christian message to Muslim surroundings: “There are even imams in places like East Africa who preach from the Bible in their mosques.”
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