GIVE NOW to support Presbyterian Disaster Assistance’s response to the unaccompanied children and border crisis in the United States. Give now

A time for Christian witness

Theology and Worship wants Presbyterians to respect all neighbors in midst of anti-Muslim rhetoric and now suspended Qur’an burning

September 10, 2010

Louisville, Ky.

Charles Wiley, coordinator for the Office of Theology and Worship, in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)  is deeply troubled. He's been reflecting theologically on the heated discussion around the proposed Islamic Center near ground zero, and now Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who planned to burn copies of the Qur'an on September 11, but backed away after believing he had received a promise the Mosque wouldn't be built there. "Consistently the Presbyterian Church has stood for respect for all of our neighbors," says Wiley.

"It is part of our witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ to treat with respect our neighbors of other faiths. I'm grateful for a recent statement by our Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons and General Assembly Mission Council (GAMC) Executive Director Linda Valentine that speaks clearly to Presbyterian values in the midst of growing anti-Muslim rhetoric and actions and plans of some church leaders and members in our country."  

Dick Rettig standing in front of a panelled white wall.

Dick Rettig will be Christian Witness at proposed, but now “on hold” burning of Qur'an on 9/11.

Wiley is also thankful for the witness of Presbyterians in Florida. Alisun Donovan, associate executive presbyter of Presbytery of St. Augustine asked for "lots of prayer." Donovan, who lives in Gainesville where Jones planned to hold his now "suspended Qur'an burning," said she felt like "all of us were going to need it." She was encouraged when she heard from 74-year old Dick Rettig. A member of Memorial Presbyterian Church, he heard of Donovan's request, as he watched Jones set the world on edge. "What is to be done?" he wondered. Rettig, a political scientist, spent 12 years as a university professor and a quarter of century as a health policy analyst for the Rand Corporation and the Institute of Medicine.
 
"There are occasions where it is imperative to declare your faith, and not leave the field to the crazies," says Rettig, who returned to the Presbyterian faith in 1998 after a 25-year absence as self-described agnostic. "I wrote Donovan telling her that I am coming to Gainesville to stand in Christian witness against the madness represented by Jones and his followers."
 

Presbytery of St. Augustine Executive Presbyter Paul Hooker says Presbyterians will participate at an interfaith prayer service Friday night, September 10th at Trinity United Methodist Church in Gainesville. "Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and others will speak with a single united voice. The larger interfaith community is for peace and justice," says Hooker, who finds it "ironic" that such "intellectual violence" is being carried out "by a community whose name refers to dove, the symbol of the Prince of Peace. As a Christian and an American I am appalled and saddened by their proposed actions."

"The roots of this incident started out last year," says Donovan, "When Jones and followers put up signs right before the anniversary of September 11 that said 'Islam is of the devil.' But it didn't spread beyond our community. A number of Presbyterians protested quietly with signs of peace. Then Jones sent youth to high schools wearing T-shirts that said 'Islam is of the devil.' They were sent home."

Because this proposed act of burning copies of the Qur'an got picked up by the international news media "the time for silence has passed," says Dr. Dan Johnson of Trinity United Methodist Church. "There should be no doubt around the globe that the Christian church does not condone or support such an action." Rettig, for one, is taking seriously the call of the 219th General Assembly of the PC(USA) for "'Presbyterians to be leaders in establishing peaceful relationships between Christians and Muslims." "Sometimes it is necessary," he says, "to be active in the world on behalf of one's Christian beliefs."

In the coming months, through their work in interfaith relations, the Office of Theology and Worship will continue to help all Presbyterians build relationships with people of other faith. "Our focus increasingly is on how to communicate with the other," says Wiley. "One of the forms of witness is to engage all our neighbors with respect."

  1. Walt, Thanks for that. I looked for it yesterday, but didn't see it on the website. I just found it. http://www.pcusa.org/resource/respectful-presence-document-study-guide/ Charles

    by CharlesAWiley

    September 13, 2010

  2. Charles, What ever happened to the paper, "Respectful Presence" prepared by the Office of Worship several years ago? Seems to me it spoke very directly to this subject.

    by Walt Sutton

    September 13, 2010

  3. 'This not only gives integrity to Christian witness it also respects the beliefs of persons of other faiths.' Two things: Integrity to Christian witness means being loyal and faithful to Christ first and foremost. The early Christians knew exactly what this meant, as did the Reformers. Secondly, respecting other people's beliefs, which are contrary to believing Christ as the Son of God, are not condoned anywhere in the New Testament. Loving our neighbor applies to his or her distressful needs, not the accepting of their false ideologies or religion. If that was the case, then the First Christians would never have been martyred because they would have accepted, respected, and tolerated the many false gods and religions that surrounded them in the Roman empire.

    by John Stuart

    September 13, 2010

  4. I want to make clear that respect for our neighbors of other faiths is way of living out "love your neighbor as yourself." It does not require theological agreement, a pluralistic theology that minimizes distinctions between religions, or a belief in universalism. We enter these relationships with a firm conviction and commitment to the Christian faith. As "Hope in the Lord Jesus Christ affirms that, "Jesus Christ is the only Savior and Lord, and all people everywhere are called to place their faith, hope, and love in him." The question is the character of our witness. I would think we should treat our Muslim neighbors with respect even if we believed Islam to be a "counter-religion." In the Office of Theology and Worship we approach the question of other religions in a very particularistic fashion, not assuming that all religions believe the same thing. This not only gives integrity to Christian witness it also respects the beliefs of persons of other faiths.

    by CharlesAWiley

    September 12, 2010

  5. "Consistently the Presbyterian Church has stood for respect for all of our neighbors," says Wiley." He's obviously not read what John Calvin, the Father of Presbyterianism had to honestly and prophetically say about Islam. I am appalled by this creeping universalism. Islam is a counter-religion to Christianity. Anyone with enough sense to see the important differences between these faiths would know that. Christ promises the Holy Spirit as the Guide and comforter of the Church; muslims interpret that promise as being fulfilled by Mohammed. John Calvin vehemently calls the Islamic interpretation as false prophecy. PCUSA leaders are becoming increasingly universalistic, which will become another nail in the PCUSA coffin.

    by John Stuart

    September 11, 2010

  6. Bob, Thanks for the kind words. Charles

    by CharlesAWiley

    September 11, 2010

  7. Caleb, I respect your concern for pluralism. The PCUSA has some excellent materials on how to engage persons of other religions with integrity. Principle #4 of "Principles for Dialogue" states: "In our pluralistic world, we confess that Jesus is the truth and the way; through him God gives life. Jesus does not point to truth but is the truth, in his person." In regards to prayer, we have consistently recommended that interfaith prayer is praying "in the presence of" persons of other faiths, not necessarily praying "with" them. Such an approach not only tries to maintain the integrity of Christian prayer, it also shows respect for the person of another religion. I trust that the service in Gainesville was carried out in this way. You might want to check out: http://www.pcusa.org/media/uploads/interfaithrelations/pdf/principlesfordialogue.pdf Charles

    by CharlesAWiley

    September 11, 2010

  8. While I agree that we as Christians should "engage all our neighbors with respect", I also believe that others should respect us as well. If the Muslim community is going to respect the majority of people who are against the building of the Mosque in the location of the twin towers, then they should find another location. No one is trying to prevent the building of a Mosque....just build it somewhere else. It seems to me that is the right thing to do if the Muslims want the respect of the people involved.

    by Leah

    September 11, 2010

  9. Thanks. Thanks for doing this. I for one think it is important that we put "Christ" back into the word christian. The extremism coming out in the name of christianity has been disheartening to say the least. Grace and Peace, Bob

    by Robert Gibson

    September 10, 2010

  10. Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and others praying together? That is a no no. We cannot unite in prayer with people of other religions, that is not Christianity, that is Universalism. This is a New Age Movement promoted by Catholicism, Episcopals, Opera, Obama, and many others. They say all paths lead to one place. People, don't buy into this lie! When we buy into this lie, we are only making the Antichrists job easier, to form a One World Religion during the Tribulation! The PCUSA is no longer true Presbyterian. They have left reformed theology and fundamental Bible values. Repent or Perish is what Jesus said in Luke 13:3. Take His words to heart PCUSA, Repent or Perish! That goes for the United Methodists as well! We are called to be separate. The church was not put here to be politically correct. If Jesus was to walk into the PCUSA General Assembly, they would through Him out for being a rebel! Let us get back to the faith! There is ONE way, and that is through Faith in Christ Jesus! If this does not stop, I will be forced to leave the PCUSA forever!

    by Caleb Carter

    September 10, 2010

Leave a comment