Article Last Updated: Tuesday, February 25, 2003 - 3:35:52 PM PST
Readers respond to the Prayer on the brink of war
For the Daily Facts
Some of my newspaper columns get more response than others. Currently the record number of replies is held by the Latter-day Saints, who once sent me more than 200 very kind messages. But last weeks column, which was a Prayer on the brink of war, produced more than a few responses.
In the interests of my readers I felt it only fair to list some of the more significant, and I regret that I cannot answer each one personally.
One of my relatives in Massachusetts from the Congregationalist Church was the most succinct, saying simply, May God answer this prayer.
Another reader closer to home was also pleased with the prayer, but less pleased with the clergy in her own church on how they addressed this painful issue. She writes:
A prayer on the brink of war has such strength and beauty. If suddenly things could be perfect on earth, your column on 2/18/03 would be first in line. Thank you for sharing the heartfelt prayer. Who should read the prayer is Presiding Bishop [name deleted]. I was sad when I read how he blasted not only our country but also former President Bush. In fact, I think Ill send him the column
I hope the good bishop appreciates the message.
Another reader was less than pleased with my words:
Dear Prof. Gregory Elder,
It brings so much discomfort to my heart when I hear ordinary Americans saying things that are incorrect about a certain country and its population. Or they talk about one countrys population, mention certain communities within that population but omit others. It is yet unforgiving for a professor of history to say a prayer about certain segments of the Iraqi society but neglects others. I do not understand why.
You supplicated to God so that no harm would come to the Sunni Kurds, the Iraqi Shia, the Jews and Palestinians, the Babylonian Christians, the Chaldean Catholics and the Bahai and omitted the Assyrians (the first Christians outside Palestine), Armenians, Yezidis and the Mandaeans who make the other segment of Iraqi society. May I ask why?
It would be impossible to mention every single religious group in the Middle East without writing many volumes, however I admit that I did omit several of the more important minority groups and I regret the omissions. The Mandaeans alone will merit a future column.
This letter and several others also asked about my reference to Babylonian Christians. This term, I gather, while it is used to refer to an ethnic group is not normally used to refer to a specific church, and I regret the error.
A particularly touching letter was this one which I received from an Iraqi Christian who deserves to be heard.
Dear Gregory Elder:
Along with the Arab and Kurd inhabitants of Iraq, Christian Assyrians have suffered greatly under Saddams rule who, in an effort to Arabize them, has prevented them from calling themselves Assyrians, to teach their language to their children and call their children by their ancestral names.
They not only have suffered because of Saddams rule but also for the last 2,000 years because of their Christian religion. Unfortunately even the Christians of the West have cast a blind eye on them, as you seem to have done in your prayer for reasons that are perplexing. A combination of ongoing persecutions and the unwillingness of the Western Christians to help them without exploiting them by sending missionaries to undermine their ancient faith has resulted in their fleeing to the four corners of the world.
Their departure from the Middle East and that of the other native Christians will end up with the disappearance of Christianity from the lands where it was originally born. It is tragic that Western Christians will ignore these ancient Christians who have suffered so much for their faith. Their demise will undermine the Christianity of the West also.
This is an important point, and we in the West do well to hear the voice of our Eastern sisters and brothers who have a unique wisdom borne of their own ancient experience of the faith.
Another reader wrote:
Could you please pray for the Christians of Iraq as a whole by calling them in the name known for all and thats the Assyrian Christians of Iraq only. Thank you for your prayers and God bless you and God bless the Assyrian nation.
Another reader wrote:
Dear Professor Elder:
Thanks for the gesture of your article A prayer on the brink of war. But I noticed that you did not pray for Assyrian Christians. The Chaldean and Assyrian Christians are really the same people, same culture, same neo-Aramaic language, etc. The only difference is that one is Orthodox and the other Roman Catholic. Im also not sure if there are any Babylonian Christians in Iraq, but there definitely is a community of Assyrian Christians in Iraq, so please pray for them as well.
Please know of my prayers and, I trust, those of my readers, for the Assyrian community of believers. May God bless you in the hour of your trial.
Some Iraqi Christians were very kind in their replies to me, for which I am grateful.
Dear Professor Elder:
Recently I read your article on one of the Assyrian forums. The style is so beautifully classical that I recognize the echoes of the past in it. Best regards and thank you on behalf of the Assyrian Christians.
Nor were Christians the only ones to reply to me. A letter from a Jewish gentleman says:
I was very impressed with what you wrote. As you know we Jews, when we meet somebody, we are saying SHALOM (peace). Wishing you and your family all the best and God save America.
(your ally somewhere in the Mediterranean)
One local pastor was less than pleased with my words and I hasten to reply.
Dear Mr. Elder:
Let me introduce myself. I am [name and congregation deleted] and a native of Redlands. The reason I am writing you is I was very troubled by last nights Daily Facts article that you wrote, A prayer on the brink of war.
I will get right to the point. As a Christian I make the strongest objection to prayer in the name of my God (the Holy one of Israel, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit) combined with the name of another god (Allah). They are not the same and to me it is blasphemous to do so. The Bible tells us we can have only one master.
I am reminded of what Paul faced at Athens (Acts 17). The people there wanted to have all their religious bases covered, so they even set up an altar to worship The Unknown God. I am also reminded of the prophet Elijah who said, How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him (1Kings 18:21). If you are a Christian, I pray that you have the courage to not be ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. If you are not a Christian, the citizens of Redlands deserve to know what God you serve.
This letter raises two issues: One is the question of my own faith, and the second is the issue of whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God.
Let me answer the first question directly: I am a Christian and make no secret of that fact. I do not emphasize my personal faith in this column, since it is my desire not to use this medium for evangelization, but to discuss religion in general, in the small hope that we can all learn to understand each other a bit better.
Its better to light a candle than curse the darkness, the proverb goes, and this column is my candle in the hopes that my readers will appreciate the faiths of their neighbors, even when they do not agree with them. But please have no doubt abut my own personal views, which I have been privileged to declare in several of the local pulpits.
The second matter is more problematic. The good pastor wishes to know how I could publish a prayer which invoked the Christian reference to the Trinity and the Islamic invocation of Allah the compassionate and merciful.
There are two responses. The first reply is that it is the view of a great many people that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, and so the Christian God Almighty is indeed the same as the Islamic Allah.
Among Muslims it is an article of faith that they worship the same God as Christians and Jews. The Quran is quite clear on this.
Many Christians share this view and it is common to hear people refer to Abraham as the father of the three great monotheistic religions of the West. It was in this sense that I wrote the invocation as I did, and I intended it as a gesture of respect to the three monotheistic religions.
However I am also aware that many Christians, often from the Evangelical tradition, do not agree with this view, and maintain that their God, the Father of Jesus Christ, is not the same as Allah. This view maintains that the acceptance of Christianity involves the acceptance of a particular Trinitarian understanding of God. I am not sure if I accept this view, although I am obliged to treat it with respect.
While I do not agree with Muslims on many points of belief, I am unwilling to state categorically as a matter of doctrine that they worship a different god altogether. Our Jewish sisters and brothers do not accept God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and yet we believe they worship the same God as Christians, given the Jewish heritage of Jesus and Mary.
While I respect the pastors views, I still wonder if it would not be appropriate for Christians to extend the same charity to the Muslims as we render to the Children of Israel.
I acknowledge that many Christians do not agree on the question of whether their God is one and the same as the Allah. Yet, having said this, I note one final point about the prayer. It is my understanding that Arabic-speaking Christians from the Middle East refer to their Christian God as Allah.
Given the precedent of usage by our Eastern sisters and brothers, it does not seem inappropriate for a Western Christian to share their Eastern Christian terminology.
Perhaps the most touching letter which I revived was from the following from a woman in San Bernardino:
Thank you for the prayer printed on 2/18/03. It said it all. Please God, no war. I am 93 years old and have lived though all wars since World War I and I know how terrible they are. Again, thank you.
I can only say amen to that. Peace, and thanks to all who wrote me.
Gregory Elder, a Redlands resident, is a professor of history and humanities at Riverside Community College. You can write to him at Professing Faith, P.O. Box 8102, Redlands, CA 92375, or send email to Gnyssa1996@aol.com
©Copyright 2003, Redlands Daily Facts (Los Angles, CA, USA)
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