Billboards display posters declaring: JESUS: A PROPHET OF ISLAM
There’s a little spat going on down under about a few billboards which are carrying posters with the slogan: ‘Jesus: a prophet of Islam’. They form part of a campaign by the Islamic group MyPeace, which seeks to propagate the 'common ground' (as they see it) between Christianity and Islam. Future posters are planned, with slogans such as `Holy Quran: the final testament' and `Muhammad: mercy to mankind'.
Reactions have been polarised: Roman Catholic Bishop Julian Porteous, from the Archdiocese of Sydney, has referred to them as being ‘provocative and offensive’; he said it was important for religions not to antagonise each other with such statements: “For the sake of preserving social harmony and respect between major world religions these billboards should be withdrawn, along with others which carry messages directly offensive to Christians," he said.
But Anglican Bishop Robert Forsyth of South Sydney is of the opinion that it is ‘complete nonsense’ to say Jesus was a prophet of Islam: “Jesus was not the prophet of a religion that came into being 600 years later,” he said. But he didn’t find the posters offensive. “They've got a perfect right to say it, and I would defend their right to say it [but]...you couldn't run a Christian billboard in Saudi Arabia,” he observed.
His Grace finds this very amusing – a little reminiscent of contemporary reactions to The Life of Brian, with one journalist echoing: ‘He's not the son of God, just the support act’.
Of course Christians wouldn’t be able to display such posters in Saudi Arabia. And neither would Jews, Buddhists or Jedi Knights. But that is because there is no freedom of religion or freedom of speech in Saudi Arabia. The comparison is facile. It is absurd to insist that a liberal democracy should deny these rights to a particular constituency within it, especially on matters of theology. And no doubt there will be Christians who will seek to respond to this Muslim campaign with posters saying: ‘Mohammed: a false prophet of God’, which would be purposely designed to antagonise and offend.
His Grace would like to recommend a better way:
Instead of whingeing, fuming and fulminating, why not thank the Lord for the MyPeace advertisements, and as the Apostle Paul did at the Areopagus, seize the opportunity to tell Muslims that Jesus is not merely a prophet, but the Son of God and Saviour who died that they all may be free from the law of Allah which binds?
"Men of Islam! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found a billboard with this inscription: JESUS: A PROPHET OF ISLAM. Now what you worship as Isa the prophet I am going to proclaim to you...This is a model for Christian proclamation. St Paul does not condemn the Athenians’ idolatrous false religion: he begins by commending their conviction to their faith. By employing the language of reason and invitation rather than reproach and condemnation, he offers the Church a model for proclamation in our own 'multicultural' time. He quotes the Greek poets and sees the light within their philosophy, and he builds on this to articulate the name of the God who is the source and destination of their quest for salvation.
If Greek philosophy can be a legitimate discourse for evangelism, then so can Islamic theology, however perverted a particular interpretation may be. If St Paul were to preach in Bradford (or Sydney or Brisbane) today, he would not vandalise offensive billboards or return hatred for offence. But neither would he ignore the statement and ‘turn the other cheek’: he would tell of the God of love who sent His own Son to die in order that we might live. He would begin by praising their loyalty and devotion to Isa their prophet, and then he would tell them that their lower-case prophet is also Prophet, Priest and King; the Word of God; the Spirit of God; Saviour and Redeemer of the world.
This is an opportunity for evangelism – to discuss who Jesus really is – and it is a Muslim group which is paying for it.
Praise the Lord!