Whatever else his critics say of him, no one can fault President Bush for failing to go the extra mile in his efforts to show that neither he, nor the United States, is opposed to the Islamic faith, or to Muslim nations.
Last week, the president and Mrs. Bush hosted their seventh Iftaar Dinner, the celebration that breaks the Muslim fast during Ramadan. Immediately after 9/11, the president visited a Washington, D.C., mosque and proclaimed Islam a "religion of peace." He has frequently said that terrorists are not real Muslims, anymore than people who proclaim to be Christian and engage in violence are genuine Christians.
The president is the most openly evangelical Christian and faithful churchgoer since Jimmy Carter. And the evangelical community has mostly embraced him and twice voted for him in overwhelming numbers. But that constituency is likely to be troubled over something the president said in an interview with Al Arabiya television. In an official transcript released by the White House, the president said, "I believe in an almighty God, and I believe that all the world, whether they be Muslim, Christian, or any other religion, prays to the same God."
Later in the interview, the president repeated his statement: "I believe there is a universal God. I believe the God that the Muslim prays to is the same God that I pray to. After all, we all came from Abraham. I believe in that universality."
To paraphrase a remark often attributed to the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, everyone is entitled to his or her own faith, but everyone is not entitled to define the central doctrines of that faith. The doctrines of what is called Christianity not only stand in stark contrast to Islam, they also teach something contrary to what the president says he believes.
It is one thing to try to reach out to moderate and sincerely peaceful Muslims. It is quite another to say the claims of your own faith are of no greater importance than the often contradictory claims of another faith. If we all worship the same God, the president should answer the call of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Osama bin Laden, convert to Islam and no longer be a target of their wrath. What difference would it make if we all worship the same God?
Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (carm.org) has created a useful chart that shows the conflicting claims of classic Christian belief and Muslim doctrines. It is worth studying, whatever one's faith.
The central doctrine of the Christian faith is that God sent his don, Jesus Christ, to die for sinners and by repenting of sin and accepting Christ as savior, one is "saved" and is guaranteed a home in heaven. Muslims do not believe God had a son and, therefore, no atonement for sin is necessary. Muslims believe simply telling God one is sorry and repenting of sin is enough, if one also lives up to the five "pillars" of Islam. Furthermore, according to Muslims, Jesus did not die on a cross (as Christians believe); instead, God allowed Judas to look like Jesus and it was Judas who was crucified.
Evangelical Christians believe the Bible is God's word and is without error in the original manuscripts. Muslims respect the word of the prophets, but claim the Bible has been corrupted (mostly by Jews) and is only correct insofar as it agrees with the Koran.
God calls himself "I Am" and says he is one, but with three personalities. Muslims believe God's name is Allah and reject the trinity.
How can the president say that we all worship the same God when Muslims deny the divinity of Jesus, whom the president accepts as the one through whom all must pass for salvation? Do both political parties have the same beliefs? Are all baseball teams equal (clearly not, because only two will go to the World Series)?
The president can be commended for sincerely reaching out to Muslims, but he should not be commended for watering down his beliefs and the doctrines of his professed faith in order to do so. That's universalism. There are "churches" that believe in universalism, his Methodist church does not. No Christian who believes the Bible believes in universalism. And no Muslim who believes the Koran does either.
President Bush is wrong - dangerously wrong - in proclaiming that all religions worship the same God.