A Catholic group recently invited me to teach at Oregon State University (OSU) on Islam. Their plan was to have me equip OSU Catholics (and other believers) to better understand Islamic theology and learn how to reach Muslims with the Gospel. Sounds non-threatening, right? Many Muslims didn’t think so.
Instead, they became upset that I was invited to speak. Muslims began to protest my event and demand it be cancelled. They cited my articles, blogs, and videos as justification for their concern. They raised such a commotion that the Catholic group had to move my presentation off the university campus and into their own building (which was a smaller venue). The Muslim Student Association claimed I was an “expert on conversion rather than a facilitator of relationship and conversation.”
I’m not sure that being an “expert on conversion” (even if that was true) would be a problem. Muslims would love to see Christians (and every other person on the planet) convert to Islam. It is true, though, that the priest in charge asked me to “offer [the Christians] some perspective as how to evangelize, how to share the Gospel with Muslims in classrooms, etc.” That’s what I always do. In fact, I specifically encourage Christians to get over their hesitancy to talk to Muslims and begin to develop relationships with them by starting conversations.
The material I presented at the event was consistent with the content I always teach when covering that topic. I reminded the Christians in the audience that we are ambassadors for Christ and are called to present the message of reconciliation to all people, even Muslims. I even talked about how Muslims are not the enemy, but that Satan is our true foe. My goal was to get Christians to focus on the Gospel of Jesus when talking to Muslims and not on distracting topics like jihad.
Guess what one Muslim's first question was about during the Q&A? That’s right, jihad. Of course they didn’t like my answer, which created more tension. In fact, these Muslims seemed more sensitive than others that normally come to my events. One even took offense at the content of my biography. The priest who introduced me described me as a speaker who teaches on controversial topics like evolution, abortion, Islam, and homosexuality. “Why are you calling Islam a ‘controversial’ topic?” asked one Muslim. “We don’t say Christianity is controversial,” he continued.
In addition to the Muslim protest, a Christian campus group also opposed my invitation. One Christian leader expressed concern that I view Muslims as “objects or even targets for conversion” and that my teaching “denies [Muslims] their essential humanity and de-legitimizes their Abrahamic faith tradition.” He went on to say that such “dehumanizing objectification” had no place on their campus because students were “engaged in a remembrance of the Holocaust this week—a horrifyingly stark example of such objectification and targeting.”
Wow! Apparently teaching how Christians can fulfill Jesus’ command to “Make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19) could result in behavior similar to the atrocities committed by the Nazis.
Even though the event was moved, fortunately it wasn’t cancelled. It also turned out to accomplish what the Muslims were afraid it wouldn’t do—facilitate relationship and conversation.