muslim_kids_prayingThe US Conference of Catholic Bishops have issued a statement re-assuring everyone that Catholics are welcoming to refugees.

This is unremarkable in itself and simply re-affirms other documents which  lay out Catholic social teaching on refugees and immigrants.

It’s good to hear the church’s social teaching on these matters, but one does pause to wonder at some of the effusive language being used.

Most Reverend Mitchell T. Rozanski, Bishop of Springfield and Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, Most Reverend William E. Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore and Chairman of the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, and Most Reverend Oscar Cantú, Bishop of Las Cruces and Chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace, wrote,

It is our conviction as followers of the Lord Jesus that welcoming the stranger and protecting the vulnerable lie at the core of the Christian life. And so, to our Muslim brothers and sisters and all people of faith, we stand with you and welcome you.

Not wishing to pick too many nits, but in what sense exactly are Muslims our “brothers and sisters”? I always thought that in the Christian faith our brothers and sisters were those who shared with us, baptism and faith in Jesus Christ as the incarnate Son of God and our Eternal Redeemer.

Further questions arise. Perhaps the bishops mean that Muslims are our “brothers and sisters” in that they are human beings and we all belong to the “brotherhood of man.” This is a lofty sentiment to be sure and one that is rather inspiring in the abstract.

They do mention “all people of faith” but what does that mean?

The problem with this fuzzy language is that it weakens the concept of our “brothers and sisters” being those who Galatians 6:10 call “the family of believers”. Calling all human beings our brothers and sisters denigrates the idea that those who are baptized and have faith in Christ are “adoptive sons” and “joint heirs with Christ.” (Romans 8:17)

In fact, while we are quoting the New Testament, it is worth pointing out the Apostle John states clearly that belief in the incarnation of Jesus as the Son of God is a sign of the true believer and those who deny it are the antiChrist (Sorry for the inflammatory language–but if you don’t like it, best to blame the Apostle)

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.  This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,  but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

Then (remembering that Islam was supposedly given by the angel Gabriel…) St Paul weighs in on distortions of the Christian gospel:

 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—  which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!  As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse! (Galatians 1: 6-9)

Darn it! That Apostle Paul was so harsh and rigid!

The problem is that Catholics engaged in inter faith and ecumenical work too often avoid making necessary distinctions. The Apostles John and Paul were not averse to calling things as they really are. The New Testament is crystal in its condemnation of false distortions of the gospel.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m fully in favor of helping refugees no matter who they are and what their religion might be. I’m glad the Catholic bishops are standing up for the vulnerable, the weak and the oppressed. I think it is a great thing to assist the poor and helpless regardless of race and religion. I also think it is a good and positive thing for Catholics and Muslims to be friendly and engage in dialogue.

I simply don’t think it does much good to refer to Muslims as our “brothers and sisters” and to prove my point I wonder how many Muslim imams regularly refer to Christians as their “brothers and sisters.” I’m not expert in Islam, but I suspect there are very few.
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