Friday, September 19, 2008

How to lose a Christian reader

By making light of their faith, that is.

Folks, Umar Lee, writing for IslamOnline.Net in his Muslim Letter from the American Heartland column, writes about his fears of Sarah Palin’s Pentecostalism, because “If one were to look at the biggest haters of Islam in the leadership of American Christianity, the majority of them are Pentecostals.” He said so in his piece, Palin's Frightening Pentecostalism.

I won’t take issue with Mr. Lee’s characterization and fear of Pentecostals. I have my own theological issues vis-à-vis Pentecostals. But I do take exception to this statement:
Pentecostalism is only about a century old but it is the fastest growing branch of Christianity in America and throughout the world. Its hallmark is having a strict interpretation of the Bible and lively worship services in which believers speak in "tongues" after supposedly being anointed by what is known as the holy spirit.
It may be that Mr. Lee is unaware but Christians capitalize Holy Spirit because it is the proper name of a personal Being, namely God. The Holy Spirit is not a “what,” is a “Who.” This view is not exclusive of Pentecostals, but a core belief of historical Christianity.

Of course, I allow that Mr. Lee may be writing from his own “faith perspective” and I also grant that he’s not alone in minimizing the personality of the Holy Spirit. Jehovah’s Witnesses, like Muslims, are Unitarians when it comes to their view of the Godhead; they too minimize the Holy Spirit and in their peculiar translation of the Bible they render His name in lower case initials.

Let me give a counterexample. Perhaps I should write from my own faith perspective too about the “alleged prophet Muhammad, supposed seal of the prophets.” Muhammad’s prophetic credentials or lack thereof rather, are fully consonant with my Christian beliefs but I also know that at that point I will lose any Muslim reader, just as Mr. Lee lost me when he talked about the “holy spirit.” If my purpose is to convince and persuade, I will allow the readers to reach their own conclusions without having to hide my opinions behind various well-placed modifiers. I would refrain from using "red flag" terms in order to influence, convince, and persuade.

If Mr. Lee’s intent was to create bridges to others who fear Pentecostals, I submit to you that he failed. As a Catholic I have more in common with Pentecostals than with Muslims and I am not as skeptical of Pentecostalism as I am of Islam. Nor can I hold anything but a jaundiced view of those who make no effort to understand who the Holy Spirit is.