Following Franklin Graham’s recent vituperative remarks about warmongering Muslims (“a very evil and wicked religion”), more moderate Christians sought to calm the waters, and Bush himself reiterated his opinion that Islam is “a religion of peace.” But a recent poll strongly suggests that evangelical Christians have little use for Islam. The poll, conducted not by evangelicals but by the Ethics and Public Policy Center and Beliefnet.com, indicated that 79 percent of evangelicals don’t think Muslims and Christians pray to the same god, and that 70 percent think Islam is a “religion of violence.”
Reverend Ted Haggard of the National Association of Evangelicals, told the Voice, “The majority of times Islam is mentioned in the press it’s in connection with a violent act. . . . It’s the responsibility of Islamic leaders to get this under control.”
Even evangelical leaders like Haggard were embarrassed by the poll’s findings, which were pretty ghastly, with 77 percent of respondents having an “unfavorable” view of Islam. More than two-thirds believe that Muslims are opposed to democracy. Only one-third think U.S. Muslims are committed to democratic values. Three-quarters of the respondents think that fighting religious persecution should be a top foreign policy priority. Almost everyone polled thinks it’s either “very important” or “somewhat important” to evangelize among Muslims.
The Christian take on Islam is key for politicians assessing the vote in domestic elections because Christian groups are waiting in line for government money to set up projects in Iraq.
Franklin Graham, Billy’s son and the man who gave the benediction at Bush’s inauguration, said his Samaritan’s Purse organization is set to move into Iraq, handing out hygiene kits, pots and pans, plastic for tents, and medicine. “We realize we’re in an Arab country and we just can’t go out and preach,” Graham told Beliefnet. “I believe as we work, God will always give us opportunities to tell others about his Son. . . . We are there to reach out to love them and to save them, and as a Christian I do this in the name of Jesus Christ.”
The Christian right has always been a fickle bed partner for the conservative wing of the Republican Party, untiring fighters in the campaign trenches but, as a whole, unreliable political allies who may pull up stakes at any time and disappear into the woodwork. Bush Sr. paid little heed to them, much to his regret, but his son, as a born-again, caters to every whim of the Christian right, and counts on them as key players in his political base.
America’s physical intrusion into Muslim countries in the Middle East opens a broad new spectrum in terms of domestic American politics. The vanquished Iraq, with all of its non-Christians, provides an arena in which to reward religious groups with politically motivated aid contracts, and within the U.S., Republicans can try to build nativist support by arguing, for example, that U.S. Muslims don’t believe in democracy.
In times past, the Christian right has welcomed the creation of Israel as a step along the road to the second coming of Christ. That is a major reason fundamentalists form alliances with Jewish politicians in the U.S. A great war, the war of Armageddon, will signal the return of Christ. Believers will disappear from earth as they rise to sit in heaven during the rapture. And, although many of those Jews don’t know this, only the Jews who see the light and convert to Christianity will be saved. Those who don’t convert will be thrown into the fires of hell.
Additional reporting: Phoebe St John and Joanna Khenkine