Iraqi relief controversy a clash of worldviews, Mohler tells TIME

Communications Staff — April 17, 2003

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) –Conflicting worldviews are at the heart of the controversy surrounding Christian relief efforts in Iraq said R. Albert Mohler Jr. in an interview this week with Time magazine.

The national newsmagazine posted the interview with Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, on its website Wednesday ( TIME reporter Broward Liston interviewed Mohler on the issues of humanitarian aid and Christian missions to Iraq.

Mohler contrasted the way the secular and Christian worlds look at the Iraqi people, most of whom are Muslim.

The secular world tends to look at Islam as a function of Iraq’s ethnicity, Mohler pointed out, but Christians must consider them in a different light. Secularists consider attempts to convert Muslims to Christianity as an insult to their ethnicity, a view opposite that of Christianity, he said.

“But Christianity is a trans-ethnic faith, which understands that Christianity is not particular to or captured by any ethnicity, but seeks to reach all lost persons,” Mohler said.

“The secular world tends to look at Iraq and say, ‘well, it’s Muslim, and that’s just a fact,’ and any Christian influence would just be a form of Western imperialism. The Christian has to look at Iraq and see persons desperately in need of the Gospel. Compelled by the love and command of Christ, the Christian will seek to take that Gospel in loving and sensitive, but very direct, ways to the people of Iraq.”

Mohler sees another critical issue at stake within Operation Iraqi Freedom: religious liberty. Mohler said he would be sorely disappointed if America succeeds in the war but fails to establish a regime that considers religious liberty a priority.

He referred to the rebuilding of Japan after World War II as a direct parallel to the model Christians would like to see take root in Iraq. Douglas MacArthur, the de facto ruler of Japan following the war, introduced Western concepts such as religious freedom and tolerance that were new to the country.

“It would be an appalling tragedy if America were to lead this coalition and send young American men and women into battle, to expend such military effort, to then leave in place a regime that would lack respect for religious liberty.

“I think one of the major Christian concerns, and one of my personal concerns, is to see religious liberty (take a prominent position in) the vision of freedom that America holds up to the world.”

Mohler said the establishment of religious freedom in Iraq would clearly set it apart from its neighboring countries in the Middle East.

“No one is going to flip a switch and make Iraq a Christian nation,” Mohler said. “America is not a Christian nation; it is a mission field. Conversion can’t come at the point of a gun. I think this is a true test, in a postmodern, post-Cold War age, of how America is going to establish a model for the recovery of freedom.

“Religious freedom has to be at the center and foundation of that freedom. If Iraq were to be established in a way that religious freedom was honored, it would stand out from its neighbors in the area.”

Time reporter Liston wrote “To many, the image of American missionaries lined up at the border of Iraq waiting to render aid once the shooting stops, looks eerily like a second invasion. Or at least a profoundly destabilizing force, an army prepared to act on the inflammatory words lobbed between evangelical Christian ministers and the anti-American Muslim clerics.”

Mohler says that impression is false; Christians are merely acting in accord with a longstanding history of providing humanitarian relief alongside Gospel missionary efforts, particularly in times of war.

As a current example, Mohler pointed to relief efforts by Samaritan’s Purse, which are ongoing in Afghanistan in the wake of recent military maneuvers there. The missionary group, led by Franklin Graham, has set up hospitals near Afghanistan.

“Christian organizations have been involved in organized relief efforts throughout the history of the United States,” Mohler said. “You can look at almost every significant military endeavor and find precedence for Christians being actively involved in relief efforts.”

Above all, Christian missions will have to exercise patience and wise stewardship in its efforts to proclaim the Gospel among the Iraqis, Mohler said. Regions that are heavily Islamic have traditionally been resistant to the Christian faith, he said.

“Very honestly, Christian efforts have found Islamic regions to be very resistant,” he said. “I would not expect that in the Islamic world there’s going to be any immediate receptivity to organized Christian efforts.

“I think this situation calls for great wisdom and responsibility on the part of Christian organizations, as well as a full measure of conviction. I think it’s going to be a very interesting process to watch.”

For the complete interview see the article at:TIME Magazine

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