Missional vision and its obverse of missional fear are one root of the deep and volatile feelings that are obviously being vented in the Park51 controversy, the local, national and international discussion about whether it is appropriate for a Muslim cultural center and prayer room to be established near the site of 9/11’s ground zero in lower Manhattan. Some Christians seem to fear that such a center will be a beachhead for Muslim efforts to convert the USA into a Muslim nation. Conversely, some young Muslims worldwide seem to believe that the opposition to this center is only the most recent and visible effort of the “Christian West” to eliminate Islam from its midst.
Ever since I participated in the first Muslim-Christian public dialogue ever held in Peshawar, Pakistan, in 2004, I’ve been saying that one key is for Christians and Muslims to recognize and accept that they themselves and their counterparts in the other religion have longstanding, theologically founded and apparently indelible missional commitments. Instead, each side accuses the other of coercive and globally hegemonizing proselytism. “Crusaders” and “jihadists” are the most common epithets. Religious competition is at the root of the paranoia: “Let’s get ahead of those others at whatever cost, because they’re trying to get ahead of us at whatever cost!”
Instead of being taken off the table of inter-religious dialogue as somehow too unseemly, sensitive or polarizing, mission and even evangelism should be one of the first topics of dialogue between Muslims and Christians, each side willing to say something like: “Yes, we acknowledge that there is a universalizing premise in our faith commitment, and we recognize that element in your faith as well. We are willing to relinquish invidious interpretations of your mission commitment and ask you to do the same with our mission commitment. Let’s sit down and talk about how we’re both committed to mission and how we can best live together in that shared acknowledgment.”