Christine J. Hong recently joined the staff of the Presbyterian Church (USA) Office of Theology, Worship and Education as the Associate for Interfaith Relations and immediately found herself in turbulent waters.
A post to the internet asserting that the denomination was engaged in an update of an interfaith paper blasted the PCUSA for courting Islamists.
Hong’s initial response could have put the entire thing to rest. She said, “The paper ‘Toward an Understanding of Christian Muslim Relations‘ is neither up for revision nor an update.”
She went on to explain the origin and life of the paper. “It was produced by the Presbyterian Church (USA) with Muslim American conversation partners to encourage Presbyterians to faithfully stand in solidarity with the North American Muslim community in the midst of the hardships they continually face. It was originally commended by the 219th General Assembly (2010) to the church for study and guidance, calling for the furthering of interfaith work building on mutuality and understanding.”
She went on to say, “In the wake of growing violence in our world, the church is called to respond in ways that embody Christ’s teachings of loving neighbor. We are especially called to do so in our relationships with communities suffering from injustice and discrimination. The PCUSA has long standing and cherished interfaith partnerships with Muslim American organizations like the Islamic Society of North America.”
The “Muslim American conversation partners” and specifically the notion that the PCUSA has “long standing and cherished” relationships with groups like the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) is the issue raised by Ryan Mauro in his critique which first appeared in Front Page Magazine.
He contends that “A 1991 U.S. Muslim Brotherhood memo lists ISNA … among ‘our organizations and the organizations of our friends.’ ISNA was labeled by the government as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation trial and U.S. Muslim Brotherhood entity.”
However, what he doesn’t say in relationship to the 2007 Holy Land Foundation terrorist financing case, is that ISNA, along with NAIT and CAIR, filed motions seeking to be removed from the list of unindicted co-conspirators, and that the District Judge found that the government had violated the organizations’ rights by listing them. That ruling was then affirmed by the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. It is notable that the court also found that “the government has produced ample evidence to establish the associations of CAIR, ISNA, NAIT, with the Islamic Association for Palestine, and with Hamas.”
There is no debate that Hamas is a terrorist group. That fact gives legitimacy to Mauro’s concerns about the association of the PCUSA with the ISNA and others who are actively affiliated with them.
Mauro also fails to acknowledge that both the Bush and Obama administrations have communicated with ISNA as one of the primary ways of engaging the Muslim community in the United States.
Hong says that the PCUSA and its interfaith partners “work together toward a greater understanding of each others’ faith traditions and advocate for peace and justice in our communities. In doing so we hope to change our world for the better one relationship at a time.”
The issue that Hong might successfully raise is that of religious liberty. American Presbyterians may be divided over many things, but insuring freedom of speech and freedom of religion are points where they stand together.
Without a doubt, Hong has a big job ahead of her as she seeks to shepherd the PCUSA amidst a seemingly ever-more radicalized sea of religious pluralism and a denomination that is itself divided over many things.