Editorial by John-Henry Westen
March 25, 2008 (LifeSiteNews.com) - On Saturday night at the Easter Vigil in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI baptized Magdi Allam, one of Italy’s most prominent Muslims who upon his conversion took the name Cristiano - which means Christian. Allam, the Deputy Director of one of Italy’s largest newspapers - Corriere della Sera - wrote of his baptism the following day, saying, "Yesterday evening I converted to the Christian Catholic religion, renouncing my previous Islamic faith . . . For me it is the most beautiful day of [my] life."
As a prominent Muslim critic of Islamic extremism and terrorism, Allam had already received many death threats and had official Islamic death warrants - fatwas - signed against him. He was thus forced to live under constant security. He underwent his very public reception into the Catholic Church with the full knowledge that it would lead to much more dire death threats. "I know what I am headed for but I face my destiny with my head held high, standing upright and with the interior solidity of one who has the certainty of his faith," he wrote.
The most important part of Allam’s Easter Sunday message, however, was the portion where he pointed out that the Pope made a "historical gesture" in personally baptizing him in a public event that would be televised worldwide. "His Holiness has sent an explicit and revolutionary message to a Church that until now has been too prudent in the conversion of Muslims, abstaining from proselytizing in majority Muslim countries and keeping quiet about the reality of converts in Christian countries," he said.
Allam surmised that the Church was acting thus, "out of fear. The fear of not being able to protect converts in the face of their being condemned to death for apostasy and fear of reprisals against Christians living in Islamic countries."
While true in many cases, that fear is used as an impetus for a relativistic attitude which has been creeping into Christianity for decades. The approach sees Christianity not as the one and only truth, but one truth among many. The phenomenon also expresses itself in dealing with the various denominations within Christianity. Thus invitations to convert to Christianity - or from one denomination to another - are quietly tolerated at best, and at times openly criticized, even by those who call themselves Christian.
For instance, take the recent debacle in the Church of England over homosexuality. The result has been a fracturing of the Church of England between those who wish to remain true to the Scriptures and those who have embraced sexual immorality. A group of the faithful were looking to enter the Catholic Church en masse. The Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC), which may represent as many as 400,000 Anglicans, was speaking with Vatican officials about such a move.
One would think the reaction of those within the Catholic Church would be a heartfelt reception with open arms to brothers who are struggling to hold to the truth about human sexuality amidst turmoil within their denomination. Insiders reported that Pope Benedict would be pleased to receive the group; however, the reaction of one high ranking Church official spoke volumes about the relativistic attitude of many Christians.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, commented on the proposed entrance of the TAC into full communion with the Catholic Church, suggesting that the Church was resistant to the move. "We are on good terms with the Archbishop of Canterbury and as much as we can we are helping him to keep the Anglican community together," Cardinal Kasper told The Catholic Herald in a story published December 6, 2007.
When asked whether he felt encouraged by the TAC’s request, the cardinal replied: "It’s not our policy to bring that many Anglicans to Rome." He added, "Of course, as a Catholic I am happy if one person joins our Catholic Church but I doubt such a big group is coming - I think there are still many questions to solve first."
The question of conversion of the Jews to Christianity raises the same point. A worldwide controversy was stirred up after Pope Benedict gave general permission for the Tridentine form of the Latin Mass to be celebrated. Nominally Jewish groups - such as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), and the American Jewish Committee (AJC) - complained bitterly that praying for the conversion of the Jews was unacceptable.
The Good Friday prayers in the ‘extraordinary form’ - as the Latin liturgy is now called - contains prayers for the conversion of the Jews to Christianity. A slightly revised version issued by Pope Benedict reads: "Let us also pray for the Jews: that God our Lord might enlighten their hearts, so that they might acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Savior of all mankind. Let us pray. Let us bend our knees. Almighty and eternal God, whose desire it is that all men might be saved and come to the knowledge of truth, grant in your mercy that as the fullness of mankind enters into your Church, all Israel may be saved, through Christ our Lord. Amen."
A similar uproar to the Good Friday prayers occurred in the secular media when conservative pundit Ann Coulter spoke on air with CNBC’s Donny Deutsch about her desire for all people, Jews included, to become Christian. Deutsch became hysterical when Coulter tried to explain that Christianity considers itself the continuation of Judaism, and thus Christians wish followers of Judaism to complete the journey - "we want Jews to be perfected" she phrased it.
Deutsch called Coulter’s comment uneducated, "hateful and anti-Semitic" and went so far as to compare her to Iran in wishing to "wipe Israel off the earth." Again the ADL complained bitterly, calling Coulter anti-Semitic.
But why the hue and cry about Christians hoping the Jews will convert? Wouldn’t it be obvious that Christians, true Christians, who believe in and follow Christ as ‘the way, the truth, and the life’ would want all people to know the truth?
It would be obvious to true believers of any religion, but not to relativists.
Orthodox Jewish Rabbi Yehuda Levin, the spokesman on moral issues for some 1000 Rabbis, explained this to me once in an interview on the Coulter kerfuffle. Rabbi Levin noted that Coulter’s remarks could not be construed as anti-Semitic and that Jews who practice their faith were not scandalized by the remarks. "The Orthodox are very comfortable in their beliefs of their religion and their practices," he said. "The Jews who would be more offended by this are those that are not involved in day to day practice of Judaism."
Michael Medved, the well known practicing Jew and movie reviewer, commented on Coulter’s remarks saying, "(A)ny American Jew who doesn’t already understand that sincere Christians want the whole world ultimately to come to Christ - including us - is an ignorant fool. Yes, Christianity believes in converting people: and most of us received that memo about 2000 years ago. The proper response to the declaration that Christians want all of humanity to become Christian shouldn’t be outrage or indignation; it ought to be, ‘Duh!’ If your friends or neighbors seek to share with you the greatest gift they’ve ever received, it’s not usually a sign that they hate you; in fact, it’s very likely an indication that they love you."
Levin pointed out moreover that true followers of Judaism, like true Christians and sincere believers in several other religions, feel they have the fullness of truth, and thus in charity hope for a day when all people will embrace the fullness of truth. He explained that especially on Jewish holidays special prayers are said, even several times a day, especially for non-Jews, that they will come to accept the truth.
All this is not to dismiss the very valid concerns over the safety and well-being of converts to Christianity from Islam. The newly baptized Cristiano Allam points out that even in Italy there are "thousands of Muslim converts to Christianity who are forced to hide their faith out of fear of being assassinated by Islamic extremists who lurk among us." He hopes that the Pope’s action and his testimony will allow Christian converts from Islam to live their faith openly. "If in Italy, in our home, the cradle of Catholicism, we are not prepared to guarantee complete religious freedom to everyone, how can we ever be credible when we denounce the violation of this freedom elsewhere in the world?" he asks.
Allam suggests, "Benedict XVI, with his witness, tells us that we must overcome fear and not be afraid to affirm the truth of Jesus even with Muslims."
We must also reject the fear of public criticism and belittlement that comes from many quarters when we give public affirmation to faith in Christ. Giving in to such fear leads to a false ecumenism, which is nothing more than relativistic denial of absolute truth.
In his own Easter message delivered Sunday, Pope Benedict called on not only Christians, but all "men and women whose spirit is sincerely open to the truth," to realize that "Jesus Christ died and rose for all; he is our hope - true hope for every human being."
Welcome home Cristiano, and also to the battlefield.