DP: Is Inter-Faith Worship Possible?

“I do say that freedom is the Almighty’s gift to every person. I also condition it by saying freedom is not America’s gift to the world.  It’s much greater than that, of course. And I believe we worship the same god.”

Who said that?  If you guessed President Obama, you would be wrong.  These are the words of George W. Bush, spoken during a joint press conference with Prime Minister Tony Blair held in November 2003.

At the time, some Christian Evangelicals, including Southern Baptists, were “outraged” about Bush’s remarks which appeared to equate the god of Islam with the God of Christianity.  One prominent Southern Baptist leader came down relatively hard easy on the 43rd President, saying:

“This president has earned a lot of wiggle room among evangelicals.  If he had said that Islam is on a par with Christianity, it would be a more serious case of heartburn. This is just indigestion.”

Can you imagine what Richard Land, President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, would have said if President Obama made similar remarks?  I guess if the right political party is in power and their leaders throw enough bones to the religious right, then all will be forgiven! 

One might be tempted to think that President Bush’s 2003 comments were somehow misconstrued.  However, in a 2007 interview with  Al Arabiya, a Middle Eastern news service, Bush reiterated his belief that all religions were basically worshipping the same god:

“Well, first of all, I believe in an Almighty God, and I believe that all the world, whether they be Muslim, Christian, or any other religion, prays to the same God. That’s what I believe. I believe that Islam is a great religion that preaches peace. . . .”

President Bush is not alone in his mistaken belief that Muslims and Christians pray to the same god.  In fact, there are even some professors at Baptist seminaries who apparently feel the same way

I find it hard to believe that George W. Bush came to his beliefs only after the events of September 11, 2001.  That might explain his approach to the inter-faith worship service held at the National Cathedral just three days following the horrific terrorist attack on our nation.

In his book, Decision Points (pp. 145-147), President Bush wrote about the inter-faith worship service held at the National Cathedral on the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance, September 14, 2001.  He praised his wife, Laura, and his senior advisor, Karen Hughes, for the “fine job” they did in putting together the program for the service.

Included as part of this service were representatives from several faiths, including Islam, Judaism, and Christianity (both Catholic and Protestant).  To be sure, this was to be a prayer service and a time of remembrance.  The question that always arises from these type of inter-faith services is, “Who are we praying to?” 

Just a word of clarification before proceeding.  I have no objection to what has been labeled “inter-faith dialogue.”  In fact, talking to folks outside of your own faith can be both enlightening and productive.  However, there is, in my opinion, a difference between an inter-faith dialogue and an inter-faith worship service.

Worship, by its very nature, is giving praise and honor to God.  Regardless of what George W. Bush and some Christians believe, Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God.  If you doubt that, ask yourself when was the last time that you saw an inter-faith worship service held in a mosque?

Inter-faith worship services, especially those held in ostensibly Christian churches or cathedrals, almost always involve a watering-down of the truths of Biblical Christianity.  Such was the case on September 14, 2001.  While President Bush quotes some of his speech from that day, he left out of his book several key passages (full text here) that appear to obscure (hopefully unintentionally) the nature of the who God is:

“On this national day of prayer and remembrance, we ask almighty God to watch over our nation and grant us patience and resolve in all that is to come. We pray that He will comfort and console those who now walk in sorrow. We thank Him for each life we now must mourn, and the promise of a life to come.”

There indeed is “the promise of a life to come.”  However, there are irreconcilable differences between Islam and Christianity when it comes to how that promise is fulfilled. 

For Biblical Christians, eternal life comes only through faith in Jesus Christ — His death, burial, and Resurrection.  Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  Jesus is not one of many ways to heaven.  He is the ONLY way!  For those Christians like me who believe this, I think it would be difficult, if not impossible, to participate in an inter-faith worship service.

In dealing with the grief of 9/11, President Bush concluded his speech at the National Cathedral with the comforting words of Scripture, found in Romans 8:38-39,

“As we’ve been assured, neither death nor life nor angels nor principalities, nor powers nor things present nor things to come nor height nor depth can separate us from God’s love.”

That sounds nice.  These are definitely words of comfort.  There is only one slight major problem with how President Bush used this quote.  He left out the most important part of how we can have the assurance of God’s never-ending love:  “IN CHRIST JESUS OUR LORD.” 

Romans 8 begins with Christ and it ends with Christ.  Jesus is central to not only this passage of Scripture, but He is central to the promises of God, including His promises of eternal life and eternal love!  To leave out Jesus is to radically misunderstand who God is.

Herein lies the problem with inter-faith worship services like the one President Bush participated in at the National Cathedral.  Something always gets left out and that something is usually Jesus.  Inter-faith dialogue?  No problem.  Inter-faith worship?  Sorry, but no thanks!

6 comments for “DP: Is Inter-Faith Worship Possible?

  1. December 3, 2010 at 11:13 AM

    Howell,

    First let me say: Thanks for linking my blog in your post!!! I never know if anything I’ve written is every really read or not.

    Secondly, I would like to make a clarification: I try to stay away from the term “inter-faith” and use “multi-faith.” I understand that many people use them interchangeably, but I don’t. I also admit that I didn’t come up with the use by myself. I’m one of others that is following the lead of Bob Roberts of Northwood Church, in Keller (TX), in his use of the term. Basically: Inter-Faith tends to water down everyone’s faith while trying to find commonalities. In the attempt to find places where we can agree to work together (say, in feeding the hungry of our city), the differences become so diminished as to not exist at all.

    That is the last thing that I want! Instead, let us agree in the areas we can agree on (like feeding the hungry of our city), and hold true to our disagreements (i.e. Salvation, Nature of God, Evangelism, etc.). So, I’m using the term “Multi-Faith” to bring forth a category where disagreements are not lessened just because we may want to work together in some worthy cause. We may choose to support a food pantry together, but that doesn’t mean that I’ll be willing to fund the planting of a new Mosque, nor that they will be expected to fund a new church plant. That is just ridiculous.

    Tim

    • December 3, 2010 at 1:17 PM

      Tim,

      Thanks for the response. I completely understand where you are coming from in regards to “inter-faith” vs. “multi-faith.” I almost used both words, somewhat interchangeably, but then decided on inter-faith. I do not have any objections to working with others on “community projects,” even if we don’t agree on every nuance of theology. I did not take what your church did or what other churches do in terms of working with other faith groups as watering down your faith.

      I do think that “inter-faith” worship sevices do tend to water down our differences, especially when we are talking about radically different faiths like Christianity and Islam. But, even with multi-faith projects within Christianity, especially those that involve some sort of evangelism or theology, there is also a tendancy to minimize key doctrines for the sake of “unity.” I saw this happen with an evangelism rally in VA where a group of churches — Baptist, Methodist, Churches of Christ — hosted the Power Team. Trying to agree on what “salvation” was with some of our Church of Christ brethren, who believe in baptismal regeneration, was tricky to say the least.

      I think there is room for dialogue with other faith groups to be sure and I have followed your church’s recent event on BaptistLife. But, when it comes to inter-faith and/or multi-faith worship, that’s where I think things get more problematic. Thanks again for your post and for taking the time to read and share your thoughts. God bless,

      Howell

  2. December 3, 2010 at 3:50 PM

    A reading of Charles Kimball’s When Religion Becomes Evil as well as the Damon Linker review of Charles Marsh’s Wayward Christian Soldiers would help bring Rev. Scott and Tim Dahl up to speed on this discussion.
    I see above one of the links goes to a fellow with the Baptist World Alliance. Daniel Carro of the Leland Inst is now VP of the BWA a colleague at Leland there with Marc Olson, recent pastor of Snyder Memorial BC in Fayetteville, where good many folks associated with Ft. Bragg have influence.

    For Scott and Dahl to hold sway, where the water hits the wheel would be an interview by Scott of Chief Army Chaplain Doug Carver; Southern Baptist. A Thorough going interview on some of these topics with Scott well versed in Marsh and Kimball could be interesting indeed.

    I sincerely admire Scott for tackling this subject and his articulate expressions of his take on this matter. Even so, you can’t be half pregnant on this matter. Find a way to get in touch with Carver, Olson and Carro.
    Will be looking for your exploration and findings here on your blogspot. Would break some realpolitik ground for sure.
    Oped piece in today’s WS Journal by two Jewish Rabbis on the Presby USA stance on Palestinian Homeland could provide nuance as well.

  3. December 7, 2010 at 12:02 PM

    First of all, there’s only one God. And I cannot tell whether a Muslim is worshiping Him or not.

    Heck, I can’t tell that about the guy in the pew behind me.

    If they are worshiping God, they are sadly, sadly amiss. They have a seriously wrong picture of Him. But is that a lot different from the “Word of Life” Christians .. and I don’t think I recall anyone saying they aren’t Christians .. who are worshiping a God whom they think must respond to their spoken words? Or who declare victory over “the spirit of apathy (or darkness or alcohol)”? Or those who are praying in fear that, if they don’t get it right, God won’t love them, treat them well, or answer their prayers?

    Can I worship with a Muslim? I can, but why would I want to? I would prefer that my worship be a statement of my faith, and I would want to do nothing to affirm their religion, which is not Christianity in any way. And on that score, I would not worship with Jehovah’s Witnesses nor with LDS members, either. My witness would not allow me to mislead them that way, any more than in any other way.

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