I have recently read a book called “The Dark Side of Islam” by R. C. Sproul. Although helpful in some ways as we in the West seek to know what Muslims believe, the book is an unfortunate example of how well-meaning conservatives often witlessly fuel the fires of antagonism. When we focus attention on what divides us from others, we cannot seem to avoid the arrogance of those who think themselves to be Right and others, by implication, Wrong.
In Acts, chapter 17, we see a great example of what it means to be true to one’s own convictions while identifying and valuing common ground with others’. It is the story of St. Paul in Athens, that citadel of religion and philosophy. First — and very importantly — Paul looked and listened. Those who are obsessed with being Right tend to talk without listening.
Paul looked until he had found a bridge he could cross to connect with the people of Athens. He saw an altar dedicated “To an unknown god,” recognized that this was a clue that the Athenians weren’t convinced their “theology” quite captured all the truth about divinity. He then told them he knew that hitherto unknown god and proclaimed to them the biblical portrait of our Creator and Lord. The Creator, Paul assured them, needs no shrines nor anything else made by human hands since He himself is the source of all life, breath, and everything else.
Paul then quotes two of their own poets (Epimenides and Aratus) who had sensed that the Creator was above all and the source of all. “In him we live and move and have our being” and “We are his offspring.”
Paul did not condemn the Athenians for not being like his fellow Jews and Christians. He simply found the common ground and with full respect calls them to worship the God to whom they have now been introduced. He is not weak about this and even calls them to repentance of their ignorance (he does not mention sin) in preparation for the day when God will judge the world in righteousness.
Conservatives need not pretend there are no differences between Christianity and Islam, or between Republicans and Democrats, but they must learn to listen and respect before they proclaim their own convictions. A little humility and a little respect will go open many a door but a spirit of self-righteousness and condemnation simply slams doors shut.