Pastor Bob Roberts is a committed evangelical Christian, a barbeque-loving Texan, and head of a large conservative congregation just outside Dallas with an essential mission to plant new churches around the world.
So he’s the first to say that it’s sort of odd that his 30-year journey as an evangelical minister would lead him to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the most prominent Muslim clerics in the world. He prays with them in their mosques, “breaks bread” with them, Texas-style, at his home, and has become one of the leading Christian ministers of any persuasion in what he calls the fight against Islamophobia.
“I never dreamed I’d ever do anything like that – I had no desire to,” says Pastor Roberts, head of the 3,000-member NorthWood Church in Keller. On Monday, he traveled to the White House with other religious leaders to be briefed on the situation of Christians in Iran and the recent nuclear deal. “You have to understand my background and how we view things like that… But right now the biggest challenge in fighting Islamophobia is my tribe – the Evangelicals.”
This article reminded me of the time Columbia professor John Azumah, who specializes in Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, spoke at my church. One that thing I took away from his time with us that made me really stop down and reflect was his comment about Muslim extremism or radicalism. Not only does it affect the Muslim world, but it affects Christians because it causes us to put hate and fear in our hearts towards the entire Muslim world, making us extremist to a certain extent and keeps us from loving our neighbor and honoring God. Christians really do allow the terrorists to win when they allow hate to enter their heart.
For Pastor Roberts to take the initiative to build relationships and show the love of Christ to local Muslims takes a lot of courage, especially in this area. He’s definitely a profile in courage.
Other items in that article that I think are worth noting:
- This month, a coalition of three Muslim charities raised more than $100,000 in a “Respond with Love” crowdfunding campaign that sought to help at least eight black Evangelical congregations rebuild after a series of fires throughout the South destroyed their churches.
- Pastor Mark Shetler, head of First Covenant, “As a church, we just really felt that we are trying to answer the call of Jesus to first love God and secondly to love our neighbors as ourselves. And Jesus does not seem to differentiate what type of neighbor that is, so in trying to be obedient, we just wanted to engage our Muslim neighbors in conversation and build relationships.”
- “And then they would see me disagree with imams and rabbis, but in a respectful way,” Roberts says. “It isn’t in your face.”
- Roberts comments before starting a relationship with local Muslims, “Prince Turki said to me one day, it’s great what you do with Muslims around the world, Bob, but what about Dallas?” Roberts says. “I told him, that would be like starting a Baptist Church in Mecca. That would be a really hard thing to do.”
- Both Shetler and Roberts say their congregations have experienced controversy and push back due to their friendly engagement with Muslims and participation in each other’s traditions. NorthWood lost hundreds of its members, Roberts says. And some evangelicals have called him a closet Muslim who is betraying his faith. “We just want to say that, hey, we might disagree with Muslims on theology, but we can still respect one another, love one another, work together on creating an environment in which people can actually feel comfortable getting to know somebody that is different from what their own background is,” says Shetler.