I have been reading Sandra Mackey's dated but still informative book The Saudis, about Saudi Arabia's oil boom in the seventies and eighties. Despite Mackey's sympathetic voice, her reporting revealed an extreme xenophobic culture trying to enjoy the fruits of modern technology and wealth while preserving their Bedouin culture. Especially troubling was Mackey's description of Saudi women, who existed in a cloistered world of gender-specific stores, banks, and portions of homes. They could not hold jobs, drive, or be out in the world without a male family escort. Many were educated in order to be more valuable in the mate market, but they could not do anything with their education.
And so it was with genuine excitement I picked up the May/June issue of Mother Jones and saw a picture of a veiled Muslim woman on the cover. Under the banner "False Prophets," I expected an updated report on the plight of these women. I even felt admiration at the idea that the politically liberal, underdog-loving folks at Mother Jones having the courage to apply their modern notions of gender justice to Muslim cultures.
But these thoughts were fleeting. After the striking photo and arresting words, my eyes took in the cover's full title: "False Prophets: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Aims to Eliminate Islam." What? Did they unearth a secret plot by extreme Christian fundamentalists to declare an evangelical jihad? Who on earth wants to "eliminate Islam"?
Missionaries, that's who. Writer Barry Yeoman does uncover a plot, all right, but one that shouldn't have shocked any educated person today. Yeoman sat in on a short, intensive class at Columbia International University—a conservative Christian school in South Carolina that has a missions emphasis—taught by Rick Love, the international director of Frontiers, a large missionary organization devoted to reaching Muslims. Here is what Yeoman discovered: Evangelicals are sending 3,000 missionaries into Muslim cultures; these missionaries often find jobs that mask their true intentions—such as teaching English to nationals. Then these people invite local Muslims into their homes and have religious conversations with them. Shocking!
But that's not all. It turns out that evangelicals think Islam is a false religion and feel it is their duty to convert Muslims to Christianity—some even believe that Muslims will go to hell unless they embrace the Christian gospel. So these missionaries often bring in aid and offer medical services and then muddy these good works by insisting on telling people why they are doing these things. This, according to Mother Jones, fuels "distrust and resentment toward Westerners." Yeoman describes how Warren Larson, a former missionary in Pakistan, lived through a riot where "200 armed Muslims stormed Larson's home, throwing bricks at the ministry's two Land Rovers, kicking down his door, and setting fire to religious literature." MJ strongly implies Larson deserved what he got.
And here is most scandalous finding: "Missionaries themselves acknowledge that their work endangers the lives of converts," Yeoman writes. He reports that converts are usually disowned, stripped of their possessions and families, and often killed. Now why would anyone want to be rescued from a culture with this kind of toleration factor?
The religious illiteracy demonstrated by Mother Jones should be embarrassing. What did they think missionaries do? Do they know why we are called evangelicals? Did they ever stop and think what would motivate affluent American Christians to go live in a hostile Third World country? Both Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer, the rescued American aid workers imprisoned by the Taliban, have said they dream of going back to Afghanistan. This is the "stealth crusade" to "eliminate Islam"?
Besides the article's religious ignorance also lies a specifically anti-Christian bias. Yeoman describes Islam as an aggressive, mission-minded, intolerant religion that kills those who opt out, and yet we are supposed to be upset with the Christian missionaries because they provoke Muslim violence. We are supposed to be critical of those who are trying to instill notions of freedom, human dignity, and the ideal of noncoercive religious choice into a culture that opposes them? (But doesn't that come close to the very mission statement of Mother Jones?) We are supposed to label as "bad guys" the Christian missionaries who are willing to risk their lives for the opportunity to persuade others about the truth of the gospel and see as victims violent Muslim mobs who oppose the missionaries.
If this is our attempt to eliminate Islam, then we are guilty as charged. (In the same vein, then, Pepsi is guilty of wanting to eliminate Coke drinkers. And Mother Jones is out to eliminate readers of the Wall Street Journal.) And so God bless the great Eliminator, Jesus Christ, who wanted so much to eliminate the whole world that he was willing to bear the cross. Amen.
Michael G. Maudlin is the executive editor of Books & Culture.
Copyright © 2002 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
This weekend's Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted both the Mother Jones cover story and the recent issue of Books & Culture.
Books & Culture Corner appears Mondays at ChristianityToday.com. Earlier Books & Culture Corners include:
'A Peculiar People' | The uniqueness of the Jews. (April 29, 2002)
'Nebuchadnezzar My Slave' | Was the Holocaust God's will? (April 15, 2002)
'In the Beginning Was the Holocaust'? | Blasphemy, rage, memory, and meaning of the Shoah. (April 8, 2002)
The Gospel According to Biff | A conversation with novelist Christopher Moore. (April 1, 2002)
Baseball 2002 Preview | Part 2: Saving the game? (March 25, 2002)
The State of the Game | After one of the best World Series ever, baseball faces a crisis. (March 18, 2002)
America's Homegrown Islam—and Its Prophet | The strange story of Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam and onetime mentor of Malcolm X. (Mar. 11, 2002)
'Must Be Superstition' | Rediscovering spiritual reality. (Mar. 4, 2002)
Science Holds a Meeting | A report from the annual convention of the AAAS. (Feb. 25, 2002)
Saint Frodo and the Potter Demon | The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter series spring from the same source. (Feb. 18, 2002)
Dictionary of the Future | Trendspotter Faith Popcorn on the words that will define our tomorrow. (Feb. 11, 2002)
Does Creationism Equal Holocaust Denial? | Yes, says Michael Shermer in Scientific American. (Feb. 4, 2002)
Theodore Rex | Is "popular history" getting a bad rap? (Jan. 28, 2002)
Letter to Martin Luther King, Jr. | A progress report. (Jan. 21, 2002)
Keeping the Dust on Your Boots | Remembering the Afghan refugees—and the church in Iran. (Jan. 14, 2002)
Coming Attractions | Books to watch for this year. (Jan. 7, 2002)
Books of the Year, Part 2 | After the top ten, here's the best of the rest. (Jan. 4, 2002)
Books of the Year | Part 1: The Top Ten (Dec. 17, 2001)
"Daddy, What Is the Soul?" | Does the church have an answer? (Dec. 10, 2001)