Islam’s Future in America—Part III

MosqueThis is the third part of a series resourced by Dr. Adam Francisco’s article cited in Part I.

Building on the initial expansion of Islam in the United States in the early 1920s, the number of Muslims in other parts of the world also increased. One contributing factor was the creation of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 1928. From the Brotherhood emerged what came to be known as Islamism, a view of Islam “as an all-encompassing worldview or ideology.” Every aspect of life was thought to be “ordered by the Qur’an and Islamic tradition.”

Muslims “had a global mission that included bearing witness to Islam in or outside of Muslim majority lands. This played some role in the increasing number of Muslims who migrated to the United States on student visas shortly after the end of World War II.”

“Many of them, being too radical for the secularized Muslim states in the Middle East (the Muslim Brotherhood, for example, was and still is routinely outlawed), moved here and took advantage of American ignorance of their totalitarian ideology and began to make their way into and influence American Muslim organizations. In the mid-twentieth century … they soon began purposely working toward having ‘Islam recognized as an American religion.’”

The spread of Islam in America was aided by the development of the concept of “American civil religion” before and after the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961). “In 1948, the National Education Association began promoting the advancement of a universal vision of moral and spiritual values that were ‘shared by the members of all religious faiths.’ This enabled the newly established Federation of Islamic Associations to begin efforts at defining Islam as ‘yet another of the monotheistic religions upon which American values were founded.’”

“They were largely successful. By 1957, their work led to the building of the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C., where, at its inauguration, President Eisenhower praised what Islam had allegedly ‘contributed to the building of civilization’ and ‘contributed to the advancement of mankind.’ He then acknowledged Islam’s place in the American religious landscape, assuring Muslims that ‘Americans would fight with all their strength’ for the right of Muslims to assemble at their mosques (he called them churches) and worship according to their conscience.”

“Just how many Muslims were in America in the mid-twentieth century is unclear. There were enough, though, that mission agencies and Middle Eastern governments began to take notice.” For example, in 1961 “the Saudis got involved and began their efforts to exert control over Muslim institutions in the United States, efforts which still continue today.”

As previously stated, my goal with this series of articles is to be as objective and accurate as possible, being neither unnecessarily alarmist nor gullibly naïve about the potential impact of Islam’s future in America. I welcome your assistance in achieving that goal. See you next week.

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Islam’s Future in America—Part I

islam-9-1532819-640x480At the conclusion of my article on the visit of Pope Francis to America a couple weeks ago, I said: “Roman Catholics are not our greatest spiritual enemies. That designation belongs to Satan, the world, our own sinful flesh and Islam. I’ll say more about the last topic on that list in the weeks ahead.” This week I’m making the first installment on keeping that promise.

The title of this edition of Perspectives is borrowed from that of an article in the January/April edition of Concordia Theological Quarterly by Dr. Adam Francisco, Professor and Chair of the History and Political Thought Department at Concordia University Irvine in Irvine, Cal. Dr. Francisco is a young, very intelligent authority on Islam and is the son-in-law of Terry’s and my very good friends, Priscilla and Bob Newton. Bob is president of the California-Nevada-Hawaii District of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and a very bright mission-minded theological leader. Contents of Dr. Francisco’s article are shared here with his permission.

Dr. Francisco’s article chronicles the history of the first Muslims in the United States, who were slaves from Africa brought to this country over 200 years ago. Initially their influence was basically negligible. However, in the late 19th century the first Muslim missionary, Mohammed Alexander Russell Webb (1846-1916), began work in the U.S. Webb “was born in New York, raised in a Presbyterian household, moved to Missouri … established ties with Muslims in India, and received a commission from them to begin a mission to America.” Webb was basically unsuccessful in his five-year effort to promulgate the Islamic faith in America.

A few years later Islam’s influence in this country was catalyzed by “the thousands of immigrants who managed to circumvent the restrictions of the Immigration Act of 1891. By the 1920s it is estimated that around 60,000 had settled in cities throughout the United States. Most of them kept their religion private and sometimes even lied about it. But a few were apparently emboldened to advance Islam.”

The result was “a good bit of success in winning converts” among African Americans in Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis, and St. Louis in just three years (1920-1923) by holding what are described as “Mosque meetings” where the “virtues of Islam were exalted and Christianity was severely criticized.” The plan of Islam was to “conquer America.”

Perhaps that’s enough to whet your appetite. I’ll continue next week with more on this important topic. My goal is to be as objective and accurate as possible, being neither unnecessarily alarmist nor gullibly naïve about the potential impact of Islam’s future in America. See you next week.

The Papal Visit

Pope Francis at UNPope Francis has concluded his visit to America, which in some ways seemed longer than the six days he actually spent in our country. The reception he received in the cities on his itinerary was warm and enthusiastic. His pastoral touch was obvious, as he paused en route to touch and bless individuals, particularly children with special needs, their families and caregivers.

While comments could be made about each of the pope’s speeches, I’ll share here a few thoughts about Saturday’s 90-minute worship service at Saints Peter and Paul Basilica in Philadelphia. It was carried live, in its entirety, on Fox News and a couple other national networks.

Watching such a service brings to mind more similarities between Catholicism and Lutheranism. Both are fundamentally liturgical and sacramental. Clergy vestments, Scripture readings, homily, hymns sung by congregation and choir to organ and orchestra accompaniment are quite familiar. Seminarians later visited briefly by the pope sang the familiar “Lift High the Cross.”

Yet some of the differences between the Catholic Church and Protestant denominations were also obvious, including a somewhat appealing use of incense and the repeated veneration of Mary, the mother of Jesus. It’s obvious that Catholics still pray to Mary and consider her holy and a perpetual virgin. They often and properly identified her as the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, thankfully making generous reference to his work of redemption on Calvary’s cross.

The publicity, news and TV coverage received by the Catholic Church last week was worth millions and likely will catalyze, at least temporarily, a resurgence of interest in Catholicism. The negative image of the church resulting from sexual abuse scandals of the past may perhaps be somewhat mitigated by this pope’s messages and non-self-aggrandizing sense of humility.

That humility was emphasized, intentionally, in simple yet significant ways. One of the most visible was his ground transportation in the U.S., provided not in a limousine or even a Chevrolet Suburban, but sometimes in the Popemobile, at other times in a much smaller Fiat. By the way, the Vatican vehicle registration plate for the Popemobile and all official Vatican vehicles, begins with the letters “SCV” (an acronym of the Latin Status Civitatis Vaticanae “Vatican City State”) followed by the vehicle fleet number. In this case the plate read SCV-1.

Summarily, Pope Francis should feel very good about his visit to the U.S. And so should the Roman Catholic Church. The visibility and news coverage received by both provided publicity beyond the hopes, not to mention the dreams, of the rest of Christendom.

I pray that the result of this papal visit will be fruitful for the kingdom. As the 500th anniversary of the Reformation approaches, perhaps even our own church will experience resurgence from the apathetic atrophy in which we seem to be stuck. Time will tell. Lord, help us!

Pope Francis in the U.S.

Pope FrancisFor the first time in his papacy—and his life—Pope Francis is visiting the United States. This week he is traveling through Washington, D.C., New York and Philadelphia. Hundreds of thousands of people are anticipating the chance to see him during his time here in our country. Tickets for public masses, papal parades and even public transportation are highly coveted.

During the first part of his six-day, three-city visit to the U.S., the pope met with President Obama and today will address the U.S. Congress. Later today he will travel to New York, where he will conduct evening prayer at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and address the United Nations. Over the weekend he will take part in a Vatican-sponsored conference on families in Philadelphia. The official version of the Pope’s entire schedule is posted below.

Pope Francis, the 266th pope, was elected at the age of 76, is the first Jesuit pope and the first pope from the Americas. One report I read reminds us that the pope is not a politician, he’s a priest and that, despite what the American media might say of his objectives, this trip is the pope’s opportunity to focus more on things spiritual than things political. I hope that’s true.

I’ll take the risk here of sharing a few brief thoughts about popes and the Catholic Church. Quite often, when making a presentation on The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and its place in world Christendom, I compare the pope to the president of the LCMS. Here’s what I say:

The LCMS president has spiritual connection with approximately two million people, mostly in the United States. The pope has connection with over one billion people all across the globe. That’s one thousand million, which is 500 times more than the LCMS.

On November 26, 2001, just a few months after Terry and I sold our home and left our family in Texas to move to St. Louis to assume the office of president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, I underwent radical prostatectomy. Not many folks other than our family, my senior staff and a number of close friends knew about my surgery. That same week, Pope John Paul II had a cold and sore throat. He made front page news around the world! I fully understand the reason.

Our Lutheran Confessions refer to the papacy as the antichrist. This characterization is often understood to describe individual popes who conducted their ministry in less than God pleasing ways, especially the popes in office during the time leading up to the 16th century Reformation. Not nearly as many Lutherans today as in the past consider the pope the antichrist.

The Roman Catholic Church has different understandings of eternity than most of the rest of Christianity, including the existence of purgatory. Catholics are still assigned acts of penance and encouraged to purchase indulgences. While faith in Christ is emphasized, so is praying to saints. Papal infallibility, seven sacraments rather than just two, and the Immaculate Conception of Mary are also upheld. Lutherans and other Christians respectfully disagree with these beliefs.

For the record, our Lutheran understanding of eternity is simply this: We believe we are saved for eternity by grace, through faith in Christ our Lord, and not by works of the law. Because of the perfect fulfilling of the law by Christ and his vicarious atonement for our sins on Calvary’s cross, our sins are forgiven, both temporally and eternally. Heaven is a free gift of God’s grace, which we in no way deserve and for which we will be eternally grateful.

Notwithstanding the differences noted and a few others as well, which are not insignificant, I consider Roman Catholics our sisters and brothers in Christ. They, together with Lutherans and other Christians, confess their faith in The Apostles’ Creed, The Nicene Creed and The Athanasian Creed. Roman Catholics are not our greatest spiritual enemies. That designation belongs to Satan, the world, our own sinful flesh and Islam. I’ll say more about the last topic on that list in the weeks ahead.

In the meantime, welcome to the U.S., Pope Francis. I’m glad you’re here!

U.S. Itinerary for Pope Francis

Tuesday, Sept. 22

4 p.m.: Pope Francis arrives in U.S. at Joint Base Andrews just outside of Washington. He will be greeted by President Obama.

Wednesday, Sept. 23

9:15 a.m.: Pope Francis will appear at an official welcoming ceremony on the White House South Lawn then meet with President Obama.

11 a.m.: The Pope will parade around the Ellipse just south of the White House and the National Mall.

11:30 a.m.: Pope Francis will pray with U.S. bishops at D.C.’s St. Matthew’s Cathedral.

4:30p.m.: The Pope will canonize Junípero Serra during a mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Thursday, Sept. 24

10a.m.: Speech before a Joint Session of Congress followed by an appearance on the West Front of the Capitol at 11 a.m.

11:15 a.m.: The Pope will visit St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in D.C. and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, where he is expected to meet with clients of the St. Maria’s Meals program who will have gathered for lunch, including some who are homeless or live in shelters

4p.m.: Pope Francis heads to New York where he’ll land by 5 p.m.

6:45 p.m.: The Pope will conduct evening prayer at St. Patrick’s Cathedral near New York’s Rockefeller Center.

Friday, Sept. 25

8:30 a.m.: Pope Francis will address the United Nations General Assembly, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary. The Pope is also expected to attend bilateral meetings with the U.N. Secretary-General and the President of the General Assembly.

11:30 a.m.: The Pope will pray, meet with families and deliver an address at a multi-religious service at the Sept. 11 memorial and museum at the site of the World Trade Center.

4 p.m.: Before taking his motorcade through Central Park, the Pope will visit a third grade class at Our Lady Queen of Angels school, a 120-year-old institution in East Harlem.

5 p.m.: Motorcade through West Central Park between 72nd and 60th Streets. A ticket and valid ID are required to enter.

6 p.m.: Mass at Madison Square Garden.

Saturday, Sept. 26

8:40 a.m.: Pope departs New York for final leg of the trip, arriving in Philadelphia at 9:30 a.m.

10:30 a.m.: Mass at Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, the mother church of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia

4:45 p.m.: The Pope is expected to talk immigration and religious during an address at Independence Mall

7:30 p.m.: Visit and prayer vigil at the World Meeting of the Families on Benjamin Franklin Parkway

Sunday, Sept. 27

9:15 a.m.: The Pope will meet with Bishops at St. Martin’s Chapel, St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.

11 a.m.: Visit to Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, the city’s largest jail.

4 p.m.: Mass at World Meeting of the Families.

7 p.m.: Meeting with World Meeting organizers, benefactors and volunteers.

8 p.m.: Official departure.

Paul’s Missionary Journeys

Ephesus 1Terry and I just returned from an eleven day trip to Turkey and Greece during which I served as lecturer on the missionary journeys of the apostle Paul. We sailed from Istanbul to Athens, with stops in Troy/Troas, Sardis/Ephesus, Kos, Rhodes, Laodicea/Hierapolis, Santorini and Corinth.

In most of these ancient cities, ruins have been excavated sufficiently to enable identification of homes, businesses, civic buildings, temples and churches. Amazing architecture and incredible construction technique produced structures beyond comprehension. In some cases gigantic stone blocks weighing many tons rested for centuries atop mammoth stone pillars.

The New Testament contains information about Paul’s three separate missionary journeys, probably conducted between 45 and 58 A.D. Each was several years in length. During these trips Paul preached the news of Jesus in many important coastal cities and trade route towns.

God used Paul’s ministry to bring the gospel to the Gentiles, establishing the Christian church in places beyond its point of origin. He was aided by Barnabas, John Mark, Silas, Luke and Timothy. Positively received by many, Paul and his message were rejected by others who expressed their disapproval by beating, stoning, imprisoning and running him out of town.

Because of his bold testimony of Jesus, Saul the persecutor became Paul the persecuted.

Although Paul’s missionary journeys caused him to sacrifice everything, he said his sufferings were worth the cost: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him.” (Phil. 3:8)

Last week’s journey greatly enhanced our appreciation for Paul and his courageous ministry! I hope you share that appreciation!

Reformation Day and Election Day

Martin LutherThis past Sunday morning I preached for the 125th anniversary of Zion Lutheran Church in Portland, Ore., the “mother church” of the Northwest District of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. I also preached that afternoon at a Circuit Reformation service at Zion. Both services were exceptionally inspirational, enhanced with excellent musical and choral presentations by very talented musicians, conductors and vocalists, some from Concordia Portland! And how were the sermons? You’ll have to ask the folks who were in the pews!

In the U.S., October 31 is observed as Halloween, a day focused on witches, ghosts, goblins, tricks and treats. More importantly, as most Protestant Christians are aware, October 31 is also the date in 1517 that Martin Luther posted his “95 Theses” or statements on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany.

These Theses were designed to restore to prominence the central teaching of the church that forgiveness and salvation are gifts of God, not the result of good works. The Catholic Church of the 15th and 16th centuries had lost its Gospel focus, which had been replaced by the teaching that forgiveness and salvation must be purchased. Penance and indulgences as a means to spiritual peace were a very real part of the lives of Catholic people in those days.

One man, Johann Tetzel, was trying to raise money for the building of a cathedral in Rome. His sales pitch included the chant: “As soon as the coin in the coffer clings, the soul from purgatory springs!” Don’t want to spend time in purgatory? Spend some money now!

The Protestant Reformation aimed to restore the church, which had become deformed over centuries by false doctrine and wrong practice. This Reformation would bring about the rediscovery of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, endorsing with ringing clarity the great Biblical principles of:

  • sola gratia (we are saved by God’s grace alone, not by our own works);
  • sola fidei (God’s gifts are ours through faith alone that itself is a gift from God); and
  • sola scriptura (these truths are contained in Holy Scripture alone).

Luther’s attempts to reform the church were not well received by all, especially by the Pope. Luther was excommunicated and exiled. Although he went into hiding and lived in fear for his life, he was a man of conviction and courage. If alive today, I truly believe he would have much to say about needed reform in the Christian church. I’ll write more about that another time.

This is the last Perspectives article before Election Day, November 4. I encourage all who read these words to participate in the very important process of electing leaders at national, state, regional and local levels. We need truthful and courageous leaders, not only in the church but also in the world, including our own nation. Exercise your privilege and responsibility to vote!

A Little Girl Named Katelyn

Offering PlateThis past weekend Terry and I joined the celebration of the 60th anniversary of Pilgrim Lutheran School in Houston. In 1966 I taught the fourth grade there for four months, filling in for a young mother on maternity leave. My classroom duties began three days after our wedding and ended days before we moved to Springfield, Ill., to attend Concordia Theological Seminary.

After speaking at the banquet Saturday night, we attended Sunday morning Bible class, ably led by Rev. Wayne Graumann. With wife Kathy at his side, Wayne now serves as Pilgrim’s interim pastor after retiring from Salem Lutheran Church in Tomball, Tex. He was preceded by my good friend Bill (and Carol) Diekelman, who served at Pilgrim for six months prior.

During the Sunday service I noticed across the aisle a little girl who was crying while the offering was being gathered. Looking more closely, I detected a coin in her little clenched hand. About that time she looked toward the back of the sanctuary at the ushers who were making their way from front to back. I deduced that she was deeply upset about missing the offering plate.

Her mother was saying something to her that was impossible for me to hear. But I surmised that Mom had suggested her daughter could still deposit her offering since the ushers would pass by again on their way back to the front of the sanctuary to place the offering plates on the altar. Unaware of the dilemma, the ushers walked right past her pew, which catalyzed additional tears.

After briefly pondering if and how it would be appropriate to help, I quickly got out of my seat, walked across the aisle, knelt beside the little girl and asked her mother if her daughter was crying because she missed the offering. Mom’s answer was in the affirmative. So I asked the mother if it would be okay for her daughter to go with me to the altar to put her offering in the plate. She readily agreed. So did the little girl, whose sadness suddenly turned to satisfaction.

Hand in hand a little girl and a man she had never met walked down the center aisle and up the chancel steps. When we stood at the altar, which was much too tall for her to reach, I asked if I could pick her up so she could reach the plate. She nodded in agreement. I picked her up, she completed her mission, and we walked back together to her appreciative mother. On the way I noticed no small number of smiling worshipers who had witnessed what had transpired.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, I learned from her mother after the service that the little girl’s name is Katelyn. She is four years old. When I saw the coin she placed in the plate I was reminded of the biblical story of the widow who gave all she had. And I was thankful that I did not let my initial concern about possibly making a scene or interfering in a parental matter prevent me from taking what turned out to be a most rewarding risk.