A well-known Reformed apologist, elder and professional debater is drawing concerns after presenting, and continuing to defend, an interfaith dialogue event at a Mississippi church with a Muslim imam, which he says was meant to help Christians and Muslims engage in conversation and to “get along without compromise.”
Some objectors, while noting that they support dialoguing with and evangelizing Muslims, do not believe that it was proper to give an unconverted Muslim any type of platform during a special event hosted at a church, and feel that many of the imam’s statements should not have gone unchallenged.
“I’m totally in favor of having an accurate view of what they believe,” Andy Woods, the senior pastor of Sugar Land Bible Church in Texas and president of Chafer Theological Seminary in New Mexico, told Christian News Network. “Working out our differences and sitting down and making sure we understand each other is one thing, but giving someone a platform at a church is a different matter.”
James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries, and Dr. Yasir Qadhi, the Dean of Academic Affairs at the Al-Maghrib Institute, appeared at Grace Bible Church in Olive Branch, Mississippi on Jan. 24 for an unmoderated interfaith discussion called “Christians and Muslims: Agreements and Differences.”
The ticketed Tuesday night event was recorded and posted to YouTube.
“I think the greatest barrier for Christians in reaching out to the Muslim people is fear,” White explained during the discussion. “We have fear in our hearts. It’s based upon ignorance. It’s based upon other things. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to do this.”
“What would it mean if the Muslim people in your neighborhood knew that you loved them, cared about them and prayed for them, and were willing to do anything for them?” he asked. “It would change everything. But unfortunately, that’s not generally how they view us.”
Qadhi said that he believes some Christians view Muslims with mistrust and hatred, and he doesn’t think that it should be that way. He stated that he desires for Christians and Muslims to treat each other with mutual compassion while acknowledging their disagreements.
At the beginning of the event, White said that Qadhi has been a “primary influence” in his studies on the Islamic religion and shared that he “sense[d] in him such a kindred spirit on the other side of the chasm that divides us in regard to our theology and our beliefs.”
He disclosed that he has listened to Qadhi’s material in seeking to understand Islamic beliefs, and at one point, invited Qadhi to critique his presentation on Islam to ensure it accurately represents the Muslim religion.
While also noting that the two disagree on matters of faith, White stressed that the event was not a debate, but rather a dialogue. Therefore, the two-hour discussion was spent mostly discussing and gaining an understanding of Muslim practices and beliefs, at times being contrasted with the Christian perspective.
Topics included explaining the two sects of Islam, the belief that the Koran is the word of God, and the Muslim view that Jesus was a prophet and not divine, nor was He ever crucified.
“Muslims are looking forward to Jesus’ return because when Jesus comes back, we believe His soldiers and His army will be Muslims,” Qadhi also explained to those gathered. “We also believe—and this is in the Hadith or the Sunna of the prophet—that every true Christian will then recognize that they were incorrect [about] the Trinity and then follow Jesus as well.”
During the second hour of the event, Qadhi outlined that Muslims never judge whether or not someone is bound for Heaven or Hell and that they don’t even speak with certainty about themselves. White noted how Christian belief differs from this point of view.
“From the Christian perspective, the only reason that I can have peace with God or confidence of entering into His presence is because I’m in possession of the righteousness of Jesus Christ given to me,” he explained.
“We don’t view ourselves as a group that is somehow better than anybody else. We believe that a Christian is a person who has fled to God for His mercy and recognize that He (Jesus) is the only one that God has given to where His righteousness is perfect in God’s sight … and that’s why I can have peace with Him,” White said.
“This is one of the fundamental differences. We’ll have to agree to disagree from our perspective,” Qadhi replied. “It’s an element of arrogance to say ‘I am going to Heaven and I’m certain about it.’ Rather [we say], ‘I am very hopeful. I am very optimistic.'”
White also explained during the event that he believes it is permissible to have relationships with Muslims as long as they understand his beliefs and his desire for them to be saved. He said that he prays for Qadhi and that he wants him to bow the knee to Christ, and Qadhi acknowledged that he, conversely, desires for White to embrace Islam.
Qadhi said that even if both sides believe the other is on the path to Hell, Christians and Muslims should still come together despite their differences to fight society’s ills.
“Do we have to make this world a living Hell because of that? That’s the question. Let God judge on Judgment Day,” Qadhi said. “… Can’t we be good neighbors together? Can’t we work together for better schools, to minimize crime, to fight against pornography and drugs, to affirm family values?”
“Why must we hate one another in a civil society where coming together will bring about so much potential good?” he asked. “Why can’t we look at what we have in common even as we understand and appreciate and are honest about our differences?”
The following day, White spoke at the Memphis Islamic Center, where similar dialogue about the Muslim and Christian faiths took place, with White—while complimenting Qadhi’s expertise and influence on his studies—explaining concepts such as the Trinity, original sin and the imputation of righteousness through Christ.
Several weeks ago, Brannon Howse, host of Worldview Weekend, discovered the footage of the event and expressed concern that an Islamic imam was brought into a church for dialogue. Howse regularly speaks and writes about Muslim issues and terrorism both on his radio broadcast and website, in addition to discussing various false doctrines in the Church.
“Preach the gospel, but do not give them a platform to deceive the American people, and most importantly, the Church,” he said in a broadcast on June 11, which featured guests Usama Dakdok, an Egyptian-born Christian who had been schooled in Islam as a youth, and Sharam Hadian, a former Muslim turned pastor.
Howse pointed to 2 John 1:9-11, which he said would admonish White not to “give [Qadhi] a greeting of spiritual solidarity, [or] say you’re kindred spirits, [or] say you’re seeking common ground.” He said that White should apologize and express regret for holding the event at a church.
“We’re calling you to repent. Humble yourself,” Howse declared. “I believe [there is] damage you’re doing to Muslims, to non-believers, to Christians, to the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Hadian also expressed concern about those that Qadhi is associated with, including controversial Brooklyn imam Siraj Wahhaj, who is considered to be a jihadist. Qadhi has also appeared at events with Linda Sarsour, one of the organizers of the Washington Women’s March, who expressed her hope earlier this month that “when we stand up to those who oppress our communities, that Allah accepts from us that as a form of jihad.”
“When he says, ‘We have kindred spirits,’ ‘He’s my mentor,’ ‘You’ve taught me much,’ ‘I’m learning from you,’ you’re endorsing someone who is denying Christ and is operating by the anti-Christ spirit,” Hadian contended.
Dr. Gregory Williams, pastor of The Cross Church in the Washington, D.C. metro area, also took to social media to express his objection to White’s interfaith dialogue, writing in part:
“Any Christian that supports James White having an interfaith dialogue with a Muslim in the church show that they cannot be trusted with protecting the flock or the gospel. They, along with James White, show that they do not take seriously the evil of false religions. They believe you can bring satanic false religions into body of Christ and have a dialogue about getting along. This is ridiculous. It clearly contradicts biblical teaching.”
Williams additionally posted 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 as an admonition, which reads in part, “What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols?”
WHITE AND QADHI DEFEND THE DIALOGUE
White has repeatedly defended the event as contention over the matter continues to stir, stating that there was nothing unbiblical or compromising about his actions. In responding to Williams, he contended that 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 does not apply to dialoguing with and witnessing to Muslims.
“If discussing differences in beliefs means we are ‘unequally yoked,’ then all witnessing encounters would fall under this condemnation, would they not?” White asked. “Was Paul unequally yoked with the philosophers and religious men on Mars Hill? With his unbelieving opponents in the synagogue? How about in business? If Paul had to buy animal hides from unbelievers to make his tents, was he ‘unequally yoked?'”
“Clearly, the only way to interpret Paul’s words has to do with specifically religious and spiritual activities where there is a need for *commonality of faith* to accomplish the ends, such as, for example, evangelism, church planting, etc.,” he said.
White posited that his critics overlook that the event, while at a church, was held on a weekday outside of regular service hours, and was a ticketed event only for those interested.
“It fits the ‘meme’ better for people to assume it was a Sunday morning service and an Imam was invited to preach the sermon,” he said.
Williams responded by stating that White had made the “wrong assumption” that he and others believed the event was held during the Sunday service, and that “it makes no difference regarding what time it was held or on what day.”
He also noted that he was “not arguing that Christians cannot engage [with] Muslims” nor was he “asserting that it is wrong for Christians to interact in general or worldly affairs with Muslims or unbelievers,” but rather referring only to bringing false religions into the church. Williams said that White’s example of Paul’s visit to Mars Hill was faulty.
“No, Paul was not unequally yoked with the philosophers and religious men on Mars Hill; neither did the Apostle Paul reach out to a church and ask them to give a satanic religion and its representative a platform in their place of worship in the front of believers and unbelievers,” Williams wrote.
White additionally directly addressed Howse, claiming that Howse’s “ignorance is being used” by a “powerful group” with a political and financial agenda that seeks to stop such dialogue.
“There are people in our society today that are very intent on building huge walls between Christians and Muslims, making sure we do not have any conversations with one another. That, of course, ends any meaningful evangelism,” White said. “As Christians, we should be people who are laying down our lives to reach the lost, including those from false religious systems.”
He additionally refuted Howse’s interpretation of 2 John 1:9-11 in a blog post, writing, “[T]his passage teaches us to examine the doctrine of Christian teachers and to not give a basis for operation in our communities for those who are not orthodox in their teaching. Likewise, we can see the text has nothing at all to do with doing debates, outreaches, or even dialogues with those of other religious faiths.”
“Attempting to apply this text to non-compromising outreaches, interactions, debates, etc., is clearly a misuse of the passage in its original context,” White contended.
Howse has responded with a number of social media and blog posts, denying that there are any forces behind him in coming forward with his concerns, and that reaching out to Qadhi to help Christians understand Islam “is like asking Glenn Beck to make a video for Christians to better understand Mormonism.”
“Publicly apologize and repent for your interfaith dialogue with Yasir and for saying you sense a kindred spirit with him, giving a platform for his antichrist religion, and asking him to make a video from which Christians can learn about Islam,” he wrote on July 12.
Qadhi himself has also posted online about the matter in defense of White, who he said has been the target of “severe online character assassination and smear campaigns” for hosting a Muslim at a church.
“I cannot deny that one of the reasons any Muslim would talk about Islam in front of a non-Muslim audience is to demonstrate the beauty of Islam, and hope that some amongst them find in it the true message that Jesus himself preached,” he wrote in part. “And I know full well that Mr. White’s intentions, which he has expressed explicitly, was to hope that some Muslims convert as they listen to him explain Christianity.”
“I would be happy if any Christian who listened to my lecture converted,” Qadhi also acknowledged. “But if they choose not to convert, that’s their business to decide, and Allah’s to judge. It is not my duty to do anything more than speak.”
Others also came to White’s defense, including Charismatic columnist Dr. Michael Brown and host of “The Line of Fire,” who is a friend of White’s and is sometimes questioned by Christians for his ties to Benny Hinn and those in the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR). Brown opined that the dialogue helped to educate Christians so that they can knowledgeably witness to Muslims, now knowing what they believe.
“It appears, … that White’s unforgivable sin was that he chose Dr. Yasir Qadhi as his partner in dialogue, since Qadhi is a very conservative Muslim. But isn’t that the one you want to talk with? Don’t we want to hear things out of the horse’s mouth?” Brown asked in an article entitled “Why the Hysterical Attack on James White for His Interfaith Dialogue?”
“That’s called getting accurate information out,” he said, “and as someone who has also studied Islam, even in the primary sources in Arabic, I can assure you that Qadhi accurately represented the beliefs of many millions of Muslims.”
“[S]houldn’t we try to engage such people with the good news?” Brown inquired. “And shouldn’t we do our best to understand what they actually believe? Aren’t there enough misconceptions floating around already? Why not get clarity, especially from the lips of a Muslim leader?”
THE CONCERNS CONTINUE
But some believe that instead of utilizing a Muslim sheikh to help Christians understand the Islamic faith, White could have selected a number of former Muslims now serving Christ to share the same information, but from a biblical worldview.
“If you really wanted to educate [Christians] about Islam, the person who you bring in is not someone who is a believer in an anti-Christ theology,” Andy Woods, the senior pastor of Sugar Land Bible Church in Texas and president of Chafer Theological Seminary in New Mexico, told Christian News Network. “We would never bring in a Mormon or a Jehovah’s Witness to teach Christians about Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses; you bring in an ex-Mormon and an ex-Jehovah’s Witness who can analyze the system through the lens of truth.”
“So, I can think of a lot of really good people he could have brought in to educate the Christian public who are former Muslims that are now born-again Christians, but that’s not what he’s doing,” Wood opined. “He’s bringing in someone who is actually still an adherent of the anti-Christ theology.”
He said that hosting the event outside of regular service times as a separate ticketed event did not ameliorate the matter. He also disagreed with White’s citation of Mars Hill as being an example of why the interfaith dialogue was Scripturally permissible, and said that it was rather a comparison of apples to oranges.
“First of all, Paul is outside the walls of the church on his missionary journeys. [And] he doesn’t give them an opportunity to preach in his planted churches,” Wood said. “He’s out there where they are, and how does he end that presentation on Mars Hill? He ends it with a testimony about Jesus Christ, His resurrection from the dead, [that] He’s coming back to judge the living and dead, and Paul says in Acts 17, … [God] commands all men everywhere to repent.”
“So, he doesn’t say, ‘I’m a kindred spirit with you,’ or ‘You’re my mentor,’ he calls them out of their false belief system into the truth,” he explained. “And obviously, Paul on Mars Hill is not giving them equal time within a church.”
As the debate over the matter continues—even weeks later, others have also entered the discussion, including radio host Janet Mefferd, Christian musician turned pastor Steve Camp, and an elder of John McArthur’s Grace Community Church.
“We would not sanction a public dialogue with a Muslim imam, or any other person with an agenda to teach false religion, at Grace Community Church,” Grace Community Church Elder Chris Hamilton wrote in a response to an inquiry from Howse. “But neither are we sympathetic to the lynch-mob mentality that seems determined to use a disagreement such as this to discredit years of faithful ministry by Dr. White.”
Howse says he rather believes that some Christians are wrongfully considering certain leaders as being off-limits for discussion or criticism, no matter the error. He stated that he finds it hypocritical that some will denounce Rick Warren’s bridge-building with Muslims—who signed the “Common Word” document in 2007 and spoke before the Muslim Public Affairs Council in 2008—while rebuking those who express concerns about White’s interfaith dialogue.
White has engaged in debates with Muslims in the past, but explained this time that while Qadhi did not desire to debate, he was willing to have a dialogue about the similarities and differences between Islam and Christianity.