As an introduction to the History of Islam class that I will be taking this semester, our professor handed out a New York Times article from August 20, 2002 entitled, “Assigned Reading on Koran in Chapel Hill Raises Hackles.” Unfortunately, the New York Times requires people to purchase articles after a certain period of time, so I am unable to link to it. Christian Science Monitor, however, has this equivalent, but, basically, the University of North Carolina (a public university) required that incoming freshmen read a book about the Qur’an. Conservative Christian groups sued, saying that public schools should not “indoctrinate” in this way.
Of course, it has been three years since this issue broke, but, since it came up today, I really wanted to blog some thoughts I had today (as well as three years ago). More than anything, I have to wonder what really bothers these Christian groups that sued to ban the requirement. Is it that (1) they are afraid that, after students (perhaps even Christian students) read the Qur’an, they will convert to Islam (or, at least have a more pluralistic perspective); or that (2) they are simply angry that the Qur’an gets more public facetime than does the Bible? I think that both motivations play into the seething anger of this lawsuit, but I really do not think that either reservation actually poses much of a threat to Christianity.
I think that motivation (1) should raise questions about the faith of people who would sue on that basis: do they actually believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God? If so, why should they be afraid to look at opposing viewpoints? I like what the Westminster Confession of Faith (Chapter 1, part V) has to say about the Bible:
We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the holy Scripture; and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God; yet, notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.
The Qur’an, of course, would have no such authority vested in it by the Holy Spirit, so what can possibly be so fearful about it? The more I read the Bible, the more I become persuaded of its truthfulness. It seems to me that when we bring every viewpoint possible to the table, Christ will win out in the end, at least among those to whom God graciously chooses to reveal himself. An attempt to stifle the consideration of any viewpoint seems to betray an insecurity in the truthfulness of one’s position. Nay, but let God be true while allowing every man (and writing thereof) to prove himself to be a liar!
As for motivation (2), I have become increasingly frustrated over the years with Christians who, God bless them, actually think that Christianity’s success depends on irrelevent things such as whether or not we can get blocks of granite in courthouses and in public parks. I see our winning elections and court decisions in this realm as having nothing to do with our call to make disciples.
All that said, I think that I must clarify myself here: I think that the primary duty of Christians is, by the grace of God, to push back evil wherever they find it. In this case of reading a book about the Qur’an, I think that it can only be pushed back effectively if it is revealed for what it is: not necessarily as a book inciting and encouraging violence (I have not read nearly enough of it to make such a sweeping judgment), but certainly as a book making moral demands (not necessarily even the correct demands) on human beings without informing them of the salvation only possible through the atonement made by Jesus Christ to his Father on our behalf. Indeed, they do this by showing them another gospel–not that there actually is any other gospel. If we Christians are to actively promote the freedom of speech and of thought (which I very much think that we should do), we cannot adopt a “let go and let God” mindset in terms of how to get such “broad-thinking” individuals to narrow their thoughts to the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ–we must be vigilant in spreading the truth even as we allow all the usurpers of God’s glory to make their case.
And the beauty of the gospel of Jesus is that we don’t simply have to muster up our own strength to save the souls (via the minds) of mankind; Jesus Christ has already done what is necessary to provide us the grace to live vigilantly if we but trust him for it. I didn’t really know, though, how to explain all of this in the ten minutes’ class discussion we had.
Oh, and the by way, I found it very ironic that one of the only Christian supporters for reading the book about the Qur’an was the faculty advisor for Campus Crusade for Christ:
Still, Fred Eckel, faculty adviser for the Campus Crusade for Christ, says that studying a variety of religious texts may not be a bad idea, especially since the school already has an energetic religious-studies department.
“As a person who supports prayer in schools, it makes no sense to object to the use of other religious texts in the classroom, as long as the discussions are appropriate,” Professor Eckel says. “It’s a positive thing to discuss issues in the Koran, and it may also further discussions that need to be going on within the Christian community.”