Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Father Mitchell Pacwa asks "Are We at War with Islam ?"

Mitchell Pacwa is a Jesuit priest, Old Testament scholar, and a minor television personality. You can find him every night, Monday through Friday "live" hosting a prime time show on the EWTN cable network.

That's the "Global" Catholic network based just outside Birmingham, Alabama. Started by a fiesty nun a couple decades ago, EWTN claims to be in 130 million households worldwide.

This Sunday past, Father Pacwa addressed an audience of about 200 in Nashville on the topic: "Are We at War with Islam ?"

I found Father Pacwa to be a friendly and entertaining lecturer, the kind of guy who mixes "aw shucks" I'm just like you references to his love of the Polish sausages he grew up eating in Milwaukee with some very interesting details in the history of Islam.

I've written a fair amount lately on the topic of Muslim American relations, and am indeed in the process of launching an "Abrahamic Small Group" project, based on the Evangelical Christian small group model, designed to provide real inter-faith engagement at "the molecular level" between Christians, Muslims, and Jews. So I found myself very interested in Father Pacwa's engaging description of the origins of Islam, the life of the prophent Muhammed, and the meaning of the Koran.

Clearly a heavyweight in terms of his scholarly understanding of Islamic tradition, I was surprised to find that Father Pacwa was completely unfamiliar with Project Ijtihad and had never hear of Irshad Manji. He was, however, familiar with Dr. Mugtedar Khan, a scholar who supports the concept of ijtihad and is also broadly respected within the American Muslim community. He had also never heard of Facebook.

Father Pacwa never explicitly answered the question he posed--whether we are at war with Islam. I took from his general demeanor, however, that he was essentially of the same mind as I am with regards to Islam--that, just as in the Christian world there are a broad range of divergent views, some of which we in the West can live in harmony with, others which are steeped in such violence they seek nothing but our destruction.

His solution for the problem of Islamic terrorism and violence struck me as impractical.

First, he acknowledged that many Muslims are correct in pointing out that our Western culture is being undermined by what he referred to as "secular rot".

We as Christians, he argued, should first focus on converting these secularists to Christianity.

Second, he stated that we, as Christians, must take up "the Great Commission" of conversion to Christianity to all 1.2 billion Muslims in the world. In this way, we will eliminate the threat of Islamic terrorism.

6 million Muslims in Africa convert to Christianity each year, he said, implying that this was evidence of a pending tidal wave of conversions.

These two suggestions, seem completely impractical to me, and therefore of little help in solving the problem.

Sure, 6 million Muslims in Africa converted to Christianity last year. But Africa is a bit of a special case, I think, given its relatively low level of development. Muslims in Africa may continue to convert to Christianity, but overall, I see Islam continuing to grow at a fairly healthy pace.

Christians who insist on "The Great Commission" of conversion as the solution to the problem of Islamic terrorism are letting their desires to be servants of God override their observed common sense.

Another Christian friend of mine also believes conversion is the key, but I think just the opposite. In fact, the "Abrahamic Small Group" Project (details of which can be found on Facebook and at The Global Great Awakening web site) is based on the premise that the best way for Christians, Jews, and Muslims to achieve social and theological commonality is to explicity prohibit convesion attempts during discussions.

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