Perspectives of American Churches on
Islam and the Muslim Community in
North America: An Analysis of Some
Official and Unofficial Statements
Byron L. Haines
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the oil crisis of 1973-1974, and Khomeini's Iran are situations that awakened the American people to the reality and importance of the Arab world and the religion of Islam. The perception of this reality has been enhanced by reports of events in our media, a force still shaping and informing the attitudes and opinions that most American people have about Arabs, Muslims, and Islam. The American Christian church and its members are no exception to this continuing process of attitude formation. However, there are portents of change in the stances of the American churches toward Islam, the Muslim world, and the American Muslim community. The aim of this chapter is to explore the nature of those changes and to suggest their impact on the kinds of relationships that develop between the American churches and the Muslim community in America. For this purpose, a number of documents published in recent years by American churches or by agencies representing a substantial number of Christians are analyzed.
A few initial observations are helpful in understanding this analysis. Although a substantial bibliography of writings on Christian-Muslim relations exists, very little has been done as yet on attitudes and interactions in the American context. 1 American church organizations, within their respective consultative processes, have only recently begun to reflect seriously on the interfaith character of the North American scene.
Further reflection by American churches on Islam and the Muslim community in America has not been self-generated. It has been forced on churches by changes taking place in the world, especially since World War II. In addition to the economic and political events mentioned here, the growing size of the Muslim community in North America has attracted the attention of American churches, especially given the importance of size in the American society as determinants of worth and value. As Yvonne Haddad has pointed out, the