2016-06-30
In the days following our posting of Beliefnet editor-in-chief Steven Waldman's critique of Franklin Graham's planned relief work in Iraq, we received many emails--both supportive of and opposing Waldman's views--from Beliefnet members. We particularly liked this well-thought-out letter from Randall D. Smith, an Israeli-based American Christian who directs the Wilderness Tabernacle and Christian Travel Study Programs. In the letter he explains the evangelical argument for evangelization.

I want to respond to the opinion you offered on Franklin Graham's relief work in Iraq. I do appreciate your right to voice your view, and want to cordially respond by making it clear that there are literally millions of us that understand what you are saying, and find your position to be completely undefensible legally (in U.S. law), morally (in the Biblical sense of the term) and logically.

I offer these comments to be clear, and they must not be understood as an attack on you (for I have not had the pleasure of meeting you), merely on a position that you have taken.

As a Christian who has lived in the Near East for more than a quarter of my life and served in Muslim relief, I would like to express a point of view that I believe to be well-informed in this matter. Before I do, I want to analyze what I believe you said in your article, in order that I may not simply be dismissed as an unthinking fundamentalist. I understood the essence of your issues as five basic areas:

1. Your legal argument. You believe that Franklin's religious liberties are not as essential as two other concerns: a) the safety of coalition forces; b) the happiness of other Muslim regimes in the area that may react badly to the potential spread of the Christian message.

2. Your moral argument. You argue that Graham's actions (should they continue their relief plans and work in Iraq) is immoral, and that because "half" of his motivation in relief is the spread of the message of Jesus Christ, this is improper and wrong.

3. Your historical argument. You raised the specter of President Bush's use of the term "Crusade" in the opening, apparently to engender an image of an evil army of Christian invaders to a peaceful Muslim society long ago.

4. Your logical argument of bias. You accepted that Graham has a good reputation in relief work, and did not accuse him of any fault but his overt position against Islam, a religion he believes is "very evil and wicked." You use terms like "Islam-bashing icon" to reveal your level of distaste for Graham's opinions (if not his person).

5. Your Biblical argument. You admit your knowledge of the Bible may be insufficient to debate with Mr. Graham, yet you decided to use the Bible as part of your defense, citing Mattew 10:5 and concluding that the record of Jesus' teachings may not support the sharing of the message of Jesus at this time.

Now, I would like to answer the issues you raised as I have categorized them above:

1. Your legal argument. American history and tradition does not include the notion that one should only defend free exercise of religion and freedom of speech when it will not cost lives. In essence, you argue that the potential safety threats are exacerbated by the exercise of the same liberties the troops came to bring to Iraq. How curious!

If you reverse the situation, should the American President tell Muslims living in America that they cannot take a stand against the war? Of course not--this would be a breach of free speech. Our courts have upheld that one's free speech is only limited to immediate causative harm, as in the case of shouting "fire" in a crowded theatre. They have offered a similar formula for the limitation of religious liberty (i.e. medical care for a child who belongs to a group that forbids such care is limited to the most extreme cases, and carefully monitored by the court).

You cannot establish any data that will verify that people in Iraq or any other Muslim nation will kill or harm more American troops if Samaritan's Purse offers relief services and includes the free expression of the message of Jesus with their services. In fact, the history of the organization's work in places exactly like Iraq negates your premise. I am not saying Graham's statements concerning Islam will ever be well-thought-of in predominately Muslim countries, simply that your argument will not stand up in any court in the United States. If the President should be compelled to act, he would be a party to doing that which the Constitution specifically prohibits Congress from doing. He would be liable. If not taken into court action, he would still be operating outside the custom of U.S.law.

2. Your moral argument. Your suggestion that Graham is immoral in his actions is equally spurious. It is possible that your definition of morality is quite different from those of us who use the Bible to form the definition of morality, and therefore we have a conflict with this position. Moreover, I find repugnant the notion that because Graham deliberately wants to persuade men and women to believe in Jesus by his expression of the message of Jesus (backed up by selfless and giving love actions), he is immoral.

Any literary student with a thorough knowledge of the New Testament (believer in Jesus or not) is forced to conclude that pattern was established by Jesus and carried as a banner by the Apostle Paul. Your argument, in effect, is with the exact pattern of my faith. We are commanded to "in our going make disciples" daily, and the pattern given to us is clear, "Live holy and loving lives, and speak persuasively concerning the message." Our churches suffer from unloving attitudes and unholy practices, and we readily admit this. Yet your own testimonial concerning Samaritan's Purse suggests they are acting according to the defined and commanded model of the New Testament.

When you called this immoral, you defined morality by a standard different from the Biblical rule of faith and practice. You are permitted to do so, but you must be aware that much of our Judeo-Christian ethical foundation is based on the respective texts of our faiths. We do not apologize for this, and our Founding Fathers openly used the Biblical ethical standard as a part of their lives, and this nation's formation. If your moral comment concerning Graham was concerning his view of Islam (though that is not what you stated in your article) I challenge your authority to judge Graham's statement.

I would not have made such a statement myself, and I understand why Muslims would not like it. Yet statements that rail against Christianity, the West and the United States are not uncommon in mosques around the world. Am I to believe from your article that Muslims will feel better about their misinformed view of Christians based solely on their imam's view, without the opportunity of meeting and talking to a Christian? Are we to limit the Muslim access to persuade people in the United States with their message of the Qur'an? Is that moral? Of course not. I do not think so, and the moral logic of your argument is not well-founded. It appears you made moral judgments, but I cannot define the standard by which you are judging morality.

3. Your historical argument. You raised the specter of the word "Crusade" in your opening paragraph, ostensibly to evoke images of a Christian march on defenseless Muslim villagers. I have an acute awareness of the damage caused by the Crusades in the Near East, and yet, I challenge that historical view.

No Christian would argue the Crusades were a good thing. However, it is a matter of historical record that Pope Urban's call for the crusades began only after 350 years of conquests and advances by Islam on cities held by the "Christian" Empire.

Perhaps this observation seems shockingly insensitive--I truly do not want to be insensitive. I recognize that a great many people--Jews, Eastern Christians and many others--were harmed by the terrible behavior of the Crusaders in the region. Yet, I argue that Islam was not a victim of the action--it was the primary cause. When Jerusalem fell to the Islamic invaders, they had no right to assume the empire that lost territory would not counter-attack to reclaim the territory. When North Africa was swallowed up by the advance of Muslim armies, they bore no eternal title for the lands they took from Byzantium (despite their religious view that they held such a rightful title). When the southern approaches of Europe were besieged and taken by Muslim armies, Pope Urban saw the "handwriting on the wall" of the Western empires.

It grieves me to study how heartless and cruel many Crusaders were, and certainly they committed moral crimes and horrors, some to Muslim victims. They bore no resemblance to the behavior of a Christian as defined by the New Testament. Yet, the often-repeated Islamic claim that they were victims of the Crusades is not a truth to be unquestioningly accepted. I believe it is a simple matter of history that they were a substantial part of the cause.

President Bush used the term, and then was quickly steered from it, and rightly so. He is President of six million Muslims (as well as the rest of Americans) and must not be partisan in his speech when he can lead the nation without such offensive language. My Muslim neighbors in the United States have as much right as I to be Americans, and to follow our President. I will defend their right to do so, while believing the content of their faith to be incorrect. I simply argue the perception of the reference to Crusades has less to do with history than with the myth in which that history is portrayed.

4. Your logical argument. You argue that Graham's bias against Islam invalidates his right to speak the message of Jesus to the people of Iraq. By that logic, he should only take his message to people he believes have a "good and right standard of religious faith" (the converse of the argument). If he believed their standard was already true, he need not carry any message to them. He takes this message because he believes Muslims are locked into a false and damning religion. He is entitled to that view.

I would argue that the message of Jesus is (no matter how distasteful to those of other faiths) an exclusive message. I could cite dozens of verses such as: "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man comes to the Father but by Me." (Jesus speaking- John 14). I am not arguing that you must agree with the New Testament notion of an exclusive way to Heaven. I am arguing that Franklin Graham, and millions of Christians from the "born again" movement, have a perspective that was born in a careful reading of the words of Jesus and His early followers.

I stand with them, unapologetic that the Master I have voluntarily obeyed compels me to share my faith with you and all men, just as I would instinctively help those trapped in a burning building. It is our call. I expect you to disagree with it, but we have found in the history of Christianity that when we reach out with our message to persuade men and women that Jesus alone bears the answer to their eternal lost condition--and when we accompany our verbal message with overt acts of love and care--people respond.

Logically, we only do this in places where we absolutely already believe the people are lost in a false religion. Islamic teachers have no problem calling our message false, we have no problem calling theirs false as well. We only ask that we have the opportunity to share our message and live in such a way that men and women see how it has dynamically changed us. Our history is filled with examples of people who were killed for offering food, water and our message. It is a cost we understand, and part of the calling. They can judge for themselves if they want to become part of the family (at least, if your suggestion is ignored and they are allowed to go).

The logic of your argument makes no sense: we shouldn't go, because they disagree with us. I argue that is when we must go.

5. Your Biblical argument. I was frankly surprised at your citation of Matthew, and agreed you would not do well to debate Graham in Biblical content. If your argument was that "another time" was the time he and other Christian agencies should share the message of Jesus, I argue that you have not read the rest of the New Testament carefully. There is overwhelming evidence that Jesus commanded His followers to "go and make disciples" at the end of His ministry. They understood that demand, and carried the message to many nations, most suffering a martyr's death in the process.

Gather any 50 literary students into a classroom (belief in Jesus not a requirement and in fact, it may be better to choose those who have not been religiously trained at all) and call on them to carefully read and evaluate the materials of the New Testament. They will be forced to conclude the documents reflect the mission view of Christianity. They will see clearly that followers of Jesus, when forbidden to speak concerning their message, "obeyed God rather than men" and paid the penalties for their apparent insolence to the human authorities. You cannot use the New Testament to deny Graham access to people he defines in New Testament terms as "lost" on the basis of the New Testament. It is a misuse of the document's clear reading.

I have observed Beliefnet's approach to faith, and appreciate your work, though I absolutely disagree with it in substance. I find the amount of faith one has to be much less relevant than the truth of the object of their faith. A lot of faith that aspirin will cure cancer does not make it true. A lot of faith in the wrong religious set of "truths" is equally unhelpful. I find it also notable that the higher value seems to be on tolerance, than a sense that one can know truth in any religious system.

I believe, along with millions of Christians, that there is objective truth. I believe that I have found truth in the claim of Jesus, and I believe those who do not believe this truth face an eternity of horror. I am compelled by a heart that cares for men, the Iraqis, Americans, anyone who will choose to listen.

You have a right to disagree, but do not attempt to force our message out in favor of a tolerance that discounts objective truth. If I am wrong, I will be an annoyance to you, die, and discover that I am wrong. If I am right, and one person hears the message and accepts the claims of Jesus, I will enjoy eternity with them in Heaven.

In either case, I lose nothing, for my life in Christian service has been full and rich, surrounded by people of high moral character and a great sense of humor. If my message is right, Iraqi Muslims face a terrible fate, and I am compelled to help them escape it.

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