One of the greatest needs in the Church today is for a stronger Christian witness in the Muslim world.
Even here in America, where approximately 3.3 million Muslims live (out of a world population of 1.7 billion), very few Christians engage in Muslim outreach, and even fewer are properly trained.
It is all the more unfortunate, then, when a front-line Christian apologist to the Muslim world gets savaged for holding an interfaith dialogue with a Muslim leader, even though the purpose of that dialogue was engaging the Muslim community in a conversation about Jesus.
The Christian leader in question is James R. White, a personal friend of mine and a colleague in the defense of the faith. He is the author of What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur'an, a book praised by respected Christian leaders like Albert Mohler and John MacArthur for its careful scholarship and clarity of thought.
According to Mohler, “It is absolutely essential that Christians understand that Islam and Christianity represent two contradictory sets of truth claims. James White understands this, and in this important new book he sets out the issues of truth with distinction and clarity. Christians will welcome this book as they seek to understand the challenge of Islam.”
So, this is a no-compromise, pull-no-punches treatment of the Quran, contrasting the claims of Islam’s holy book with those of the Bible.
That’s why Abdul Saleeb, coauthor of Answering Islam and The Dark Side of Islam, exclaimed, “This book is magnificent! I believe this is the most thorough and comprehensive book written by an evangelical scholar on the Qur'an.” (Note carefully that Saleeb, together with R. C. Sproul, wrote The Dark Side of Islam. They are hardly apologists for the Muslim faith.)
But not only has White written an excellent book on the Quran to help Christians engage in intelligent outreach, the book was “honed in debate with Muslim scholars and laypeople” (in the words of Rev. Dr. Keith E. Small of the London School of Theology). To date, White has participated in more than 40 moderated debates with Muslim leaders, including at least 6 that were held in mosques.
This makes White one of the most experienced Christian apologists to Islam in the Western world today, and one of the very few who has debated Muslim scholars and apologists on their own turf, and in front of their own people. Most of us can’t imagine the thought of proclaiming Jesus as Lord in the largest mosque in Europe, yet White actually did this – and it was in the immediate aftermath of the Benghazi debacle, adding to the intensity of the moment. I should also mention that he travels by himself, without body guards or a special entourage.
On what basis, then, has he become a “useful idiot” for Islam? And why are those evangelicals who stand with him branded “clueless”? It is because White engaged in an interfaith dialogue with a conservative Muslim imam, the first night in a church building (not church service, for the record, and with tickets needed to attend), the second night in a mosque.
Ironically, the man who launched the ugliest of these attacks against White, Brannon Howse, is a self-professed non-expert of Islam. Yet he claims that White “has proven he is not only not an expert on Islam but has a very hard time teaching the Bible in context.” He further alleges that the dialogue was a “travesty that was permeated with the spirit of antichrist,” and even writes, “The time has come to identify the men, churches, and organizations who defend James White in what 2 John 7-11 describes as an evil deed manifesting the antichrist spirit.” Indeed, those who stand with White are nothing more than the “Christian mafia.”
Why such hysterical rhetoric? Why such over-the-top attacks on a brother in the Lord? Why the histrionics?
Unfortunately, the “useful idiot” smear is repeated in the title of a far less hysterical article by James Simpson on the American Thinker: “When Evangelicals Become Useful Idiots for Islamism.” And Simpson defends this kind of rhetoric, writing, “Howse believes that White is simply playing into the Islamist's hands, and calls him a ‘dupe’ and ‘useful idiot.’
“These terms may sound harsh, but are very apropos in this circumstance. ‘Useful idiot’ is a term coined by Soviet leaders to describe Western liberals who enthusiastically promoted the communist line without knowing it. Today the ‘Interfaith Dialog’ seeks to do the same for Islam.”
Simpson and Howse could hardly have been more uninformed, thereby misinforming their readers.
Simpson begins his article by noting that, “The Left, in concert with its allies among atheists, Islamists, and the homosexual lobby, is engaged in a multi-front war to destroy what remains of our nation's Christian bedrock.”
White would sound a hearty Amen to this, and to this end, he has debated atheists, pro-homosexual activists, and others, not to mention co-authored a book on the Bible’s stance against homosexual practice.
Yet White has become a “dupe” and “useful idiot” because he engaged an imam in interfaith dialogue – and I repeat, for the express purpose of gospel outreach.
On a recent trip to Germany, I met a pastor from Ghana who has served in Germany for the last 26 years. He has an extraordinary ministry to Muslims and has baptized 1,000 ex-Muslims in the last 10 years. (I preached in his church in Dusseldorf years ago, so I’m familiar with his work.) On any given Sunday, you will find 200 ex-Muslims worshiping with him, so he is certainly a seasoned professional when it comes to reaching the Muslim world.
I asked him in an entirely neutral way what he thought about a colleague of mine having a dialogue like this with an imam, one night in the church and one in the mosque. He replied with enthusiasm, “That is divine wisdom! That is the grace of God! He should do it!”
When I made clear to him that the imam would get to share his beliefs with Christians in a church building, this pastor said, “Let him say whatever he wants. In our church, he would influence no one, but we should share Jesus with the Muslims.”
And that is exactly what happened after the dialogue, as Christians were able to interact with Muslims in a non-threatening environment. (The imam in question was not willing to debate White because he was not strong enough in Christian theology, hence the dialogue.)
As the head of a ministry and ministry school myself, I debated an Orthodox rabbi during a Thursday night church service and I invited him to lecture our students one day on any topic of his choice, without rebuttal. He chose the topic, “Why Christians should not proselytize Jews,” which was followed by a time of Q & A with the students (without rebuttal or response by me). As a result of this, their love for the Jewish people was deepened and their desire to reach them with the gospel greatly increased.
We hosted a forum one night at our church on the question, “Can You Be Gay and Christian?”, inviting local gay leaders to participate. (Remember that I’m the author of books like A Queer Thing Happened to America and have been publicly marked by radical leftist groups like the SPLC, the HRC, and GLAAD.) Our purpose was to help our own congregants better understand the beliefs of professing “gay Christians,” to deepen their love for these misguided souls, and to equip them to better answer their claims.
That is exactly what happened as a result of our forum, and that is exactly what White sought to do with this interfaith dialogue. As he explained to my radio audience, the results were extremely gratifying, opening the door for much interaction and dialogue between the local Christian and Muslim communities. Isn’t this what we want as ambassadors for the gospel?
Simpson himself writes, “As Robert Spencer repeatedly argues, most Muslims want to live their lives like the rest of us. They want nothing to do with the radical jihadis, Islamic terrorism, or indeed much of the classical interpretations of Islam that classifies women and non-Muslims as second-class citizens.”
Then shouldn’t we try to engage such people with the good news? And shouldn’t we do our best to understand what they actually believe? Aren’t there enough misconceptions floating around already? Why not get clarity, especially from the lips of a Muslim leader?
White basically said to the imam, “We both believe the other is going to hell. Now what?” And he made clear that his desire for the imam was that he bowed the knee to Jesus as Lord. How was this being a useful idiot? How was he “seduced by the siren call of the Interfaith Dialog,” to quote Simpson’s exact words?
Surely White understood Christianity’s fundamental, non-negotiable differences with Islam, as he made clear both nights. And surely he understood the Muslim tactic of taqiyah, which allows for deception under certain circumstances. Could it be that he was neither seduced nor duped? Could it be that he had a plan, and one that went very well – except for the hysterical attacks from some other Christians?
And could it be that people like me, who write regularly against radical Islam, who state clearly that radical, violent Islam has its roots in the Quran and the life of Muhammad, and who receive death wishes and even death threats from radical Muslims, are not clueless dupes blindly defending a colleague? Could it be that we too see clearly and recognize the purpose of this interfaith interaction? (I would encourage critics of the dialogue to watch White’s broadcast where he contrasts attacks on the event with what actually took place those nights. It makes for some shocking viewing.)
It appears, though, that White’s unforgivable sin was that he chose Dr. Yasir Qadhi as his partner in dialogue, since Qadhi is a very conservative Muslim. But isn’t that the one you want to talk with? Don’t we want to hear things out of the horse’s mouth? How is that being a useful idiot? That’s called getting accurate information out, and as someone who has also studied Islam, even in the primary sources in Arabic, I can assure you that Qadhi accurately represented the beliefs of many millions of Muslims.
Is Qadhi involved in a stealth plot to overthrow America? Not to my knowledge. Is he connected to Muslim organizations in America that I do not trust? Absolutely. But do I take him at his word that he now opposes violent jihad, to the point that ISIS, whom he calls “crazy,” is trying to kill him? Yes I do.
Ironically, the same article in the New York Times, cited by Simpson to incriminate Qadhi actually proves the wisdom of White selecting him as a partner in dialogue. Simpson’s argument is this: Qadhi is a Salafi Muslim, which means ultra-conservative; Osama bin Laden was a Salafi; the implication is that they are therefore similar, associating Qadhi with terrorism.
What the Times says is this, “In the spectrum of the global Salafi movement, Qadhi, who is 36 [the article was written in 2011], speaks for the nonmilitant majority. . . . This is what makes Qadhi such a pivotal figure in a subculture that is little understood, even by the law-enforcement officials who monitor it. He is the rare Western cleric fluent in the language of militants, having spent nearly a decade studying Islam in Saudi Arabia, steeped in the same tradition that spawned Osama bin Laden’s splinter movement. Arguably few American theologians are better positioned to offer an authoritative rebuttal of extremist ideology” (my emphasis).
Did Simpson actually read the article he cited? And was he aware of Qadhi’s trip to Auschwitz in 2010, a trip which deeply impacted him? He had previously claimed that Hitler didn’t intend to slaughter all the Jews but had retracted the comment with apologies years before the trip, saying, “It was even more necessary for me to go and see how wrong I was.”
What is most ironic of all is that Howse, Simpson, White, and I stand shoulder to shoulder in our concerns for the spiritual and moral decline of America and our desire to see the truth proclaimed to Muslims and about Islam. And while one might differ as to the strategic wisdom of an interfaith dialogue, it is certainly not the occasion for a vicious and ugly attack.
It’s time, then, for the hysterical rhetoric to stop and for us to work together in sounding the alarm against radical Islam while reaching out with love and truth to the Muslim community.
Shall we bury the hatchet here and move forward?
(For the record, I invited Brannon Howse to join me on the air opposite Dr. White to share his concerns but he declined. I also offered this article first to American Thinker, giving them the opportunity to present a different perspective, but they declined to post it, saying it was too long -- although it was shorter than the Simpson article I critiqued here – and that it was too theological. When I offered to shorten it and make it more political and less theological if they were likely to post it, they did not reply.)