I would like your opinion on two recent news items. First, is the situation at The National Cathedral in Washington D.C. where Muslims were allowed to hold service.  Secondly, the story of the pope praying at a Mosque while facing Mecca. Would these be considered blasphemy? Can’t see where Jesus would approve of such actions. What are your thoughts?


The two situations seem quite different to me.  The first is an example of a supposedly Christian group allowing Muslims to use their facility.   In this case, it is not clear that the Christian group is endorsing Islam.   The church I am part of has met at a synagogue, at a Catholic monastery  and at a 7th Day Adventist meeting place.   I assume that these groups do not advocate what I believe and I certainly do not advocate what they believe.  Letting someone use our physical facility is not necessarily an endorsement.  To me it represents tolerance rather than endorsement.  At worst, this is a grey area, but it is not clearly wrong to let another religious group use our facility.  The facility is just a building, after all.

The second example seems to me to be different.   In this case, if you have the details correct, it has an important and influential supposedly Christian leader appearing to endorse the Muslim religion and the Muslim practice of praying toward the idolatrous Kabah shrine in Mecca.   Personally, I believe that this is not simply tolerance but amounts to endorsement of false religion and I would not agree with what the Pope did in this case.

For myself, I would be willing to visit a mosque or Hindu temple or Shinto shrine.   To visit such a place and observe the worship appears to be an example of tolerance but not endorsement of false religion.   On the other hand, I would not participate in Hindu idolatrous worship and I would not pray in a mosque bowing toward Mecca.  This seems to me to be qualitatively different.   It amounts to endorsing false religion rather than merely tolerating those who observe false religion.  As a publicly recognized religious leader, the Pope should be particularly careful not to be seen to endorse the false belief that Muhammad is a prophet.  I do not want to judge the Pope over this, but I do not agree with what he did.

This may seem like splitting hairs, but to me showing tolerance and acceptance of those who have false religion by going to where they go and observing their worship seems to be quite different from actively participating in their false religion.  There are biblical precedents for this.   For example, Paul advises disciples with regard to idolatrous worship.  In 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 he advises very strongly against participating in idolatrous worship, even though he points out that the idol is really nothing.  Technically, since an idol is mere metal or wood, meat sacrificed to a piece of metal or wood is really just a piece of meat.  Nevertheless, Paul says that “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too.”  Through Paul, God tells us not to directly participate in idolatrous worship.

On the other hand, Paul is not overly legalistic.  In fact, he allows that a believer could eat meat which might have been sacrificed to an idol if we are not sure that it was used in such a sacrifice. In 1 Corinthians 10:25 he advises that Christians should “Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience.”  The situation in 1 Corinthians 10 is not exactly analogous to the two situations you mention above, but I believe that the limited analogy is instructive.  We should not actively participate in kinds of worship which are unambiguously pagan or idolatrous, but there are grey areas.  When we eat meat in our homes, not in public areas and when it is not even clear that the meat was sacrificed to an idol, Paul advises to go ahead and eat that meat.  What we do in the privacy of our home has a different implication from what we do in public.  This is one reason I believe that the pope made a big error in publicly making obeisance toward the Kabah in Mecca.   Is this blasphemy?   I will let you decide for yourself.  It certainly is a bad idea, but whether this amounts to blasphemy is something I will leave to God to judge.

John Oakes


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