“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!