Christian/Muslim Dialogue Question # 4: Government

Solving the Mid East Crisis

The following is part 4 of the transcript of the Christian/Muslim Dialogue between Howie Gardner and Kamal Nawash held in baltimore in August of 2010; moderated by Rev. John Morine.  This one dealing with the proper method of governing a society: 


John Morine:

Okay, question number 4: According to your religion, what are the proper methods of governing a nation of people? Six minutes, guys.


First, let’s note that I Samuel, Chapter 8, recommends that government be as small as possible. There is always the danger that, if you place too much power into the hands of a few, they will abuse it.

Now, since the days of Sparta and Athens in ancient Greece, there has been a conflict between nations that emphasize the importance of individual freedom versus those who seek to maintain morality through force and discipline. The latter is a noble goal. The problem is that it doesn’t work. If I choose not to rob a bank simply because I am afraid of being caught, am I any more holy than the person who does rob one? No. Morality is something that cannot be legislated. Jesus told the Pharisees that, while they may have never committed murder or adultery, if they had harbored hatred or lust in their hearts, then they had already done so spiritually.

Now, there is a great concern among third world countries that the United States has become a major importer of industries that cause people, particularly children to stumble spiritually. They see Madonna, Britney Spears, and Burt Reynolds on our movie screens. They see attempts to import whiskey, pornography, and even abortion services into their backyards and they cry foul. “You are attempting to lead our children astray!” they shout. I didn’t know until just recently that Playboy magazine publishes special editions to be imported into foreign countries. Ayatolah Khomeini labeled us “The Great Satan” for this reason. You see, Satan is not a conqueror; he is a tempter. He places all sorts of temptations in our path to make us stumble. And people in other countries, many of them Muslim, are shouting, “Leave our children alone!”

Now, what is the solution, here? Many have insisted that legislation such as Sharia Law is the answer – a state enforced morality. Folks, it doesn’t work. A child does, in fact, need a certain degree of discipline. However, particularly as they grow older, they also need a degree of freedom and trust. If there is too much freedom, they grow up to be irresponsible. If there is too much discipline, they very often grow up to be rebellious. We saw this in the actions of the 9/11 terrorists during the time they were in the United States preparing for the attacks. Here were individuals who had been raised up under Sharia Law living in the midst of the so-called “Great Satan.” You would have thought that they, of all people, would have lived moral lives in our midst – but no. They relished the chance to live in a free society. And, they carried it to extreme. They sampled the very worst that harbors in the dark crevices of America. They spent most of their time in strip joints, bars, and in the company of prostitutes. WHY – because the strictness of Sharia Law had not made them morally strong, but had rather caused them to rebel and experience for themselves.

The best answer to producing moral children is not to surround them with a battalion of soldiers to make certain they behave. Rather, it is the parent’s duty to demonstrate love and consistently example before their children’s eyes everyday the sort of life they want their children to live. Now, every child has a free will, so there will be struggles along the way. But, the family, and not the government, is the best method of raising godly children. Hillary Clinton wrote the book entitled It Takes a Village. I disagree. Never mind the village and never mind the government. The ones best equipped to raise a godly child are a godly mother and a godly father.

(applause) And, the only one that can truly change hearts is the Spirit of God.(applause)

In the early 1900’s, Rex Humbard’s father, Dad Humbard, was a powerful revivalist. It was said that when Dad Humbard came to town the local bars and strip joints could expect to see a sizeable decrease in business. On one occasion, bartenders in Arkansas actually stood in his path armed with shotguns and dared him to enter their town. This all reminds me of a song that was popular in the 70’s entitled “The Baptism of Jesse Taylor.” I used to hear the World Action Singers do it. It went as follows:

Among the local taverns they’ll be a slack in business

‘Cause Jesse’s drinkin’ came before the groceries and the rent

Among the local women they’ll be a slack in cheatin’

‘Cause Jesse won’t be steppin’ out again.

They baptized Jesse Taylor in Cedar Creek last Sunday

Jesus gained a soul and Satan lost a good right arm

They all cried “Hallelujah” as Jesse’s head went under

‘Cause this time he went under for the Lord.


The scars on Jesse’s knuckles were more than just respected

The county courthouse records tell all there is to tell

The pockets of the gamblers will soon miss Jesse’s money

And the black eye of the law will soon be well.


Now Nancy Taylor can proudly speak to neighbors

And tell them how much Jesse took up with little Jim

Now Jimmy’s got a daddy and old Jesse, he’s got family

And Franklin County’s got a lot more man.


John Morine:

Okay, let’s hear from Kamal.


I don’t think you can find 2 Muslims that will agree on this issue. But, this is certainly a source of serious contention in much of the Arab/Muslim world. And, I might as well expand. After World War I, much of the Muslim world, and particularly in the Middle East, adopted basically the secular socialist nationhood type of government. And, at that time, the Muslim world was really presented with two concepts of government: the secular type of government based on the nation state, most of whom were socialist, or you could have the Islamic state in which you incorporate God’s rules. And, in the early part of the 20th century, the secular state won. They won handily and this continued for about 60 years.

The secular types of government made a lot of promises to the people. They gave them a certain vision as to industrialization, prosperity, basically anything good that they would deliver. By the 1980’s or late 70’s, it became apparent that, and I don’t think necessarily because they were secular, that these types of government didn’t produce what they promised. This opened the door for the religious establishment to say, “Hey, look. We tried capitalism and it didn’t work, we tried communism and it didn’t work, why don’t we try Islam?” That was their motto.

Their concept was that dictatorship is bad and democracy doesn’t work if the source of law is man. Instead of just man, the social law has to include God’s law, which comes from the scriptures. Man isn’t perfect enough to just rule himself. This is a substantial dispute throughout the Muslim world and it does cause violence.

That’s basically what the Bin Laden’s, the Hamas, and the Hezbollahs want. They believe that is the best form of government, not a dictatorship or a democracy, but rather the Sharia; basically, a group of people, wise men if you will, who have distinguished themselves through morality and education and doing good. So, there are basically a group of about 20 to 30 people and they rule the government. To me as a Muslim, I follow the trend that a government is a good government if it works for the basic good of the people, provides opportunity, provides safety, keeps crime down, provides an atmosphere where trade and economics are encouraged and not hindered by over-regulation, and provides an opportunity to raise children in a safe environment. If it does so, then it is a good government. Why would I care if the government is Muslim or Christian if it cannot provide me with the basics or if I am afraid to go outside because it cannot keep drugs dealers off the street? Why wouldn’t I choose the secular government if it can provide me with safety? What I am concerned about is if the secular government inhibits my ability to love God or if it tries to impose its own form of morality upon me. And, I think that’s probably one of the fears that people in the Muslim world have when they look at the West. Certainly, they see instances where the secular government has imposed their own morality upon the people. A major concern here is the tendency of government to impose its own morality on us.

The United States is often seen as a major importer of things which cause people to stumble spiritually and that causes concern. For parents and their children, husbands and their wives, they don’t believe the state should be involved in this. So, I guess to make a long story short, there is not one form of government that all of Islam would agree on. And, just like everything else, we will probably be talking about what the proper form of government is for the next thousand years.


About openlettertoday

Howie Gardner has been pastor of Bel Air Assembly of God in Bel Air, Maryland since 1987. He is a graduate of Oral Roberts University and has done graduate studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, United Theological Seminary and ORU's Graduate school of Theology. He is the author of two books; "Oral Exam" (originally titled "Oral Roberts in the Eyes of One of His Students") and "The Church and Terri Schiavo." Gardner is a three time cancer survivor and, as recorded in "Church & Terri" has had a "clinical death" experience and a personal glimpse of the other side" He is quite an active distance runner with a number of awards; most recently a bronze medal in the Senior Olympics. Howie and his wife Angie have three children: daughter Lindsey (whose bone marrow donation spared his life) and twin boys Bernie and David. They live in Bel Air.
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