'On Faith' Blog Hypes Recent Symposium of Liberal-leaning Evangelicals and Moroccan Muslims
If you had to narrow it down to one person, the mainstream media's favorite evangelical Christian would probably be the politically liberal Richard Cizik.
The former National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) vice president resigned from the NAE in December 2008 after having made public statements to the effect that gay marriage and abortion were politically negotiable issues for Christians of good conscience. Before then he was actively involved in getting evangelical Christians to align with liberals on global warming-related legislative initiatives.
Cizik now heads a left-leaning group -- The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good -- that advocates for nuclear disarmament, Haiti debt relief, and "Muslim-Christian dialogue" among other things.
It is Cizik's work on interfaith dialogue that caught the approving attention of Georgetown University's Katherine Marshall. The On Faith contributor wrote a Feb. 15 story for the Washington Post/Newsweek blog noting a recent seminar attended by Cizik and Morocco's ambassador to the United States:
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A group of American Christians, most of them evangelicals, met for four days last weekend with a distinguished group of Moroccans at Eastern Mennonite University, concluding with a public session Monday at Georgetown University's Berkley Center. To an outsider, the point of the conclave was not easy to fathom. It opened with a showing of a terrifying film about nuclear threats: Countdown to Zero, and concluded with heartfelt statements of shared interests and values. What was it all about? Why did Morocco's busy ambassador to the United States and other distinguished Moroccans devote so much time to the discussion?
Richard Cizik, founder of a new movement of evangelicals he describes as "young in spirit" (the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good) gave some clues as he spoke Monday.
One area of disagreement arose when the group delved into what they meant by religious freedom. For the evangelical group, freedom of religion means freedom not only to practice one's faith without interference from the government but also to share that faith freely with others, including inviting others to convert to Christianity. The Moroccans described their understanding of the term as a genuine freedom to practice one's beliefs but not to proselytize, which is against the law in Morocco. That is the law of the land, they stressed, made by Moroccans and not to be changed by outside fiat. The participants agreed to disagree, respectfully, and to keep the conversation going.
What seemed to rile the Moroccan participants most was their sense that some proselytizing comes under false pretenses. They said people come to Morocco claiming that they are opening a business or studying when their real goal is to convert Moroccans to Christianity. This, they said, destabilizes the society, and explains why a few Christians have been asked to leave or are not permitted to reenter Morocco. They noted that similar restrictions apply to other faith groups, including Muslims. The idea of restrictions on a free expression of faith likewise riled some of the evangelical participants.
Of these two viewpoints, of course, it is the evangelical Christian one that maximizes political and religious freedom and the Moroccan point of view which offers a hollow vision of religious and political freedoms.
Even so, Marshall notes that Cizik responded to the spirited disagreement by practically chastising conservative evangelical Christians for having been in favor of a "sacred public square" that is skewed in favor of Christianity:
Richard Cizik laid out three scenarios of how religion and state are related. The first is a "sacred public square," the historical model where church and state are formally linked and religion shapes public policy. There are many Americans, he noted, who hold such a view, holding that America is a Christian nation with a "moral majority" shaped by Christian values. A second view is the "naked public square," where religion is excluded from public policy and institutions and "legal secularism" prevails. The third he terms a "civil public square" where there is deep and genuine respect for all faiths (and for those who profess no faith), and no one faith is privileged. This third "civil" option is what he sees as best suited both to allow for real freedom of religion and to address the malaise that colors American views of religion and especially Islam.
Of course, the U.S. has no established church whereas, as the U.S. State Department notes, in Morocco:
Islam is the official state religion and the king is "Commander of the faithful and the Supreme Representative of the Muslim community" with the responsibility of ensuring "respect for Islam."
By Cizik's own estimation, Morocco is far from the optimal "civil public square," yet Cizik chose to suggest it's Americans in general and conservative evangelical Christian Americans in particular who have to come to grips with living in harmony with Muslims.
For her part, however, Marshall had nothing but unqualified praise for Cizik's work:
Working together to define better what the civil public square might mean, whether in Morocco or Egypt or the United States, and exploring the different forms it can take is an exercise that is well worthwhile. The question of why the busy Moroccan ambassador chose to participate in the effort is answered by appreciating the depth of feeling among both the evangelicals and the Moroccans about different interpretations of what it means, and a sense of a shared interest in working through those differences.
Bashing conservative Christian evangelicals while sugar-coating over a Muslim country's failure to offer complete religious freedom for all its citizens.
It's all in a day's work for Cizik and his admirers in the media.