A Washington meeting of evangelicals turned into a public rebuke of evangelical leaders-primarily Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson-who have made critical comments about Islam.
"Saying Islam is evil isn't going to help any of us," said Clive Calver, president of World Relief and a speaker at the meeting. Liberal religious groups have criticized Mr. Graham and others, but this was the first time his comments from November 2001-calling Islam "a very evil and wicked religion"-were questioned formally by fellow evangelicals.
The Washington-based Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) and the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) organized the four-hour meeting. About 50 evangelical leaders, including several humanitarian groups interested in working in Iraq and other Muslim countries, attended.
The May 7 meeting coincided with long-planned evangelistic meetings Mr. Graham attended with his father, Billy Graham, in San Diego. But Graham spokesman Mark DeMoss, who was traveling with Mr. Graham, said the Samaritan's Purse head is "sad" that a public rebuke was issued without his being there. Mr. Graham has noted that "no evangelical leader in America" has contacted him personally to rebuke him for comments made 18 months ago. Organizers did contact reporters from the Associated Press, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, who were present to take notes on the complaints.
The meeting, according to Mr. Calver, did not set out to focus on specific personalities but on "how to disagree without being disagreeable." He told WORLD, "It has become culturally acceptable for Christians to say Islam is an evil religion. I think that is unhelpful and unpersuasive. It is a humble attitude convinced of the gospel that is going to convince Muslims of the truth."
Mr. Calver told WORLD he called Mr. Graham's office after seeing press accounts of his remarks. "I did not mention Franklin by name," he told WORLD.
Those in attendance did issue a set of draft guidelines that take exception to watered-down ecumenical efforts. "We do not wish to strip our worship down to the point that Muslims would find it acceptable," the statement read. "We cannot accept the notion that there is an 'Islamic world' in which western Christians have no right to 'meddle,'" the guidelines state.