Work with Muslims requires sensitivity, board exec says
5/2/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.
NOTE: A photograph of the Rev. R. Randy Day is available at http://umns.umc.org/photos/headshots.html.
(UMNS) - The rhetoric of some Christian organizations toward Islam "is
not always helpful" for those doing ministry in Muslim countries, the
top staff executive of the United Methodist missions' agency says.
Rev. R. Randy Day emphasized that the United Methodist Board of Global
Ministries never ceases to proclaim Christ in its work around the world.
At the same time, he said, it's important for Christians to understand
Islam, to be "students of the Quran as well as the Bible," in order to
understand their faith and work cooperatively with Muslims.
spoke May 1 to the international United Methodist Council of Bishops
during the episcopal leaders' semiannual meeting in Addison, Texas. The
bishops, who met April 28-May 2, had asked Day to address the topic of
Islam and evangelism.
The denominationwide mission board has a
long history of relationships with people in Islamic cultures,
particularly through providing relief following natural and manmade
disasters, he said. Agency staff work in many countries in Africa, Asia,
Eastern Europe and the Middle East "where Islam is sometimes a militant
and dominant force." Through its United Methodist Committee on Relief,
the church is currently serving in areas that include Afghanistan and
Working in those settings is not always easy, he said,
noting that Islamic militants have killed many Christians. "The public
rhetoric of some Christians is not always helpful in some of those
Day avoided naming any specific individual
or group. In the last two years, some well-known Christian leaders have
condemned Islam. Those have included Franklin Graham, whose relief
organization, Samaritan's Purse, is planning to work in Iraq.
does not mix aid and evangelization, but reaches out to whomever is in
need, Day said. The Bible says nothing about feeding, clothing or
visiting only Christians, or about using food or any services in love to
gain disciples, he noted. "That's why we strive to make sure that in
all that we do, people know who we are and the deep Christian commitment
of our organization.
"I realize that not everyone understands or
agrees with our theology of service," Day said. "Sometimes our
approach, which is shared by most mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic
relief organizations, places us in tension with groups with which we
find ourselves working in emergency situations."
approach "does bear gospel fruit in the long run," he said. Its relief
work has been the prelude to the startup of United Methodist churches in
Eastern Europe and parts of Asia, he said.
Islam is a powerful
force in the lives of millions, and it cannot be ignored, dismissed or
treated with contempt, he said. The church should work with Muslims when
appropriate for the cause of peace and reconciliation, he said.
we offer educational material on Islam to our United Methodist people,
it is never done out of a theologically insecure effort at equating
Christianity and Islam," Day said. "We do it with a full Wesleyan
realization that we, as Christians, cannot expect others - Muslims in
this case - to understand who we are in relation to God if we do not
bother to learn about their understanding of God in an open and unbiased
The board never gives up its call to proclaim Christ and
to offer people the opportunity to receive him as savior, he said. "And
we are clear that the Christ we follow and offer is the Prince of Peace
rather than an oppressor or colonizer who follows in the wake of guns
The board's mission evangelism office has
organized dialogues in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, focusing on
Christian living and witness in countries with a Muslim presence. A
similar dialogue in the Philippines has been postponed because of
Muslim-Christian conflict. The dialogues have led to two books published
by the board.
The board monitors the political treatment of
Christians in Islamic and other religious cultures. It participated in a
World Council of Churches delegation to Pakistan, where Muslims had
lashed out at Christians following the U.S.-led removal of the Taliban
in neighboring Afghanistan. Day noted that interfaith relations are
better in the Islamic country of Senegal, where the denomination has 11
churches, and in Macedonia, whose president is United Methodist.
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