“From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us” (Acts 17:26-27).
Understand the times. The fastest growing Church in the world today may be in Iran. We are hearing dramatic testimonies of Muslims encountering the Lord Jesus through dreams and visions. More Muslims have come to Christ in the last 20 years than in the previous 1400 years. God is at work so that Muslims might seek Him and perhaps find Him. If Muslim parents think that sending their children to a Christian school is more morally acceptable than a secular one, we should embrace the opportunity.
I teach World Religion and Scripture at a business school that facilitates the opportunity for international students to experience an American education right here in the United States.
I face the challenges of teaching religion within an institution transitioning to explicit Christian values under Christian accreditation via TRACS (TRansnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools).
After fifteen years of existence, this is a big shift for this university and calls for adjustment from everyone in the administration.
This school is not church-sponsored, but a private institution. Each course brings a classroom full of plurality and diversity of culture and ethnicity, with students not necessarily ready to embrace Christianity.
I usually have one or two Muslims in my classes. The students are primarily motivated to get an American education and experience Southern California. Being located in Los Angeles means that plurality and diversity of culture and ethnicity is very common.
My approach to religious studies in this setting begins with finding commonality and the view that all human beings are religious beings: homo religious (via sociologist Mircea Eliade). That means everyone has a religious dimension. Dignity and respect of individuals is an essential value within Christianity — each human being is of infinite value in the eyes of our Creator God.
Within history, relations between religions and religiously-motivated people have been less than stellar. Even so, among all the religions represented in my classroom, I am most cautious when it comes to Islam. However, I am often reminded by Islamic thinkers that Islam is primarily a religion of peace, just like Christianity.
Unfortunately, this peace is not reflected in historically violent interactions or the current strain of a militaristic Islam, both of which challenges inter-religious dialogue and study in the contemporary classroom.
In such an academic setting, I strive to teach not only what has transpired over the ages but also how to set aside our differences in order to bring about a greater realization of the Kingdom of God.
For example, while we might study the history of forced conversions within Christianity, we accept that those days are long past and that they have hopefully been replaced with gentle persuasion and kindly invitation.
Today, Christians are faced with an evangelical mandate to promote and celebrate the love of Jesus Christ within our modern-day “culture war” and “battle for souls.”
While we strive to share this love, due to fallen human nature, we must always contend with militaristic language and less than peaceful struggles on campus and in society. But we can remind ourselves of some basic biblical truths: through the teachings of Jesus in the parable of the Good Samaritan, for example, we learn that who we think may be the enemy might actually be an instrument of healing.
In our schools today, this parable helps us to see that Muslim students who share our common ground of peace, shouldn’t have to fear discrimination while studying in a Christian environment, nor should Christians keep their distance from them due to fear.
In our fallenness, however, bringing this level of peace and love of the kingdom into our schools is a constant struggle. Even so, that is our role as ambassadors for the kingdom.
We are eighteen years past the events of 9/11, but are relations between Christians and Muslims any better? Muslim students shouldn’t have to fear discrimination while studying in a Christian environment nor should we hold to a distance due to fear. As Christian administrators and educators, we are to stand by our convictions and try our best to pass on the peace and love of Christ that we have experienced in our lives: the love of God poured out on all humanity.
Administrators at a Christian institution are in a unique position to communicate the reality of divine love within an academic setting, often while in the midst of religious and ethnic plurality.
“Blessed are the peacemakers.”
As an accreditation consultant, I sometimes help schools that accept non-Christian students, while holding to the evangelistic mandate as part of their mission. For these schools, I have suggested that they include in their institutional goals that every student, especially non-Christian students, know how to enter into a relationship with God by accepting Jesus the Messiah.
At the least, there should be a required course for all students where they write an essay presenting the Gospel, quoting appropriate verses from memory and explaining them.
If a school wants to go an extra step, have students individually “present the Gospel” to the professor, teaching assistant or chaplain. After the presentation, the professor could ask questions to see if the student understands and to ask whether the student would like to pray with him or her right then.