Crusaders and Franciscans - contemporary evangelical attitudes to Muslims and Islam

Greg Smith
Honorary Research Fellow, William Templeton Foundation

Abstract

Over the last fifty years British society has changed from a Christendom model where the default religious identity was Church of England to a religiously diverse society where religious identity is a significant marker for minorities in the population. Among Christians strong religious belief and belonging is most likely to be expressed by those who identify as Evangelical. In many parts of the world, and especially in the USA, Evangelical discourse on the subject of non-Christian faiths and especially to Islam suggests profound antipathy to their beliefs and sometimes hostility to their adherents.

In contrast evidence presented in this paper from a recent Evangelical Alliance panel survey suggests a range of nuanced views in the community of evangelical Christians in the UK. Although over 80% affirmed that Jesus is the only way of salvation and 84% thought Christianity is the only path to God, more extended comments show that a wide range of views exist, from the paranoid or exclusive to a view that is tolerant or broadly inclusive. The paper will examine the associations between these views and various demographic and theological factors and seek to explain the data in terms of the patterns of contemporary everyday inter-faith encounters, with specific emphasis on the Abrahamic faiths, especially Islam. The situation is discussed in a framework of dynamics and stability where religious contact between faith communities has both crystallized beliefs and identities and opened up new possibilities for alliances against the secular world.