Dexter Van Zile, the managing editor of Focus on Western Islamism, a project of Middle East Forum, expresses concern about the presence of a prominent evangelical pastor, Bob Roberts. The pastor most recently attended a Memorial Day event hosted organized by the Islamic Circle of North American and the Muslim American Society.
Interestingly, the managing editor says his concern didn’t begin with that particular event. He knows firsthand that Roberts has a past of “offering a kind of anti-Israel narrative to Palestinian Christians, for example.”
And about a decade ago, Van Zile read a now-deleted blog entry by Roberts. According to the FWI editor, the entry described Roberts’ “very pleasant” interaction with Mohammed Morsi, the controversial Egyptian president who led the Muslim Brotherhood.
Offering jokes to Morsi, Van Zile says it confirms how Roberts’ likes to “brag about” how well he gets along with people like this Muslim Brotherhood leader. He contends the pastor missed a great opportunity to question the Egyptian president about the country’s terrible treatment of Christians. Rather, he preferred to “josh” the leader instead. Now, years later, Van Zile contends the pastor has continued to “hug it out with Islamists, the same people who oppress non-Muslims.”
As a featured speaker at the recent inaugural session of ICNA and MAS, Van Zile says that Roberts continued to “ingratiate himself with an audience without challenging them about some of the more radical or unpleasant things that they have said about American society, [like] the application of Sharia law in the United States."
While Van Zile considers interfaith dialogue “a good thing,” he stresses the importance of having this kind of dialogue with what he calls “legitimate partners,” not a group of Islamists who promote “jihad, antisemitism, sex slavery, and the like.”
In this example, Van Zile notes ICNA’s “deep ties” to Jamaat-e-Islami, a violent South Asian Islamist group, as well as MAS, which was found by members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been considered as the parent organization of several dangerous Islamist movements.
The 'unintended consequences' of poor vetting
Van Zile says he is equally concerned about Christians “so interested in making peace that they abandon the truth.” He contends there are Evangelicals such as Pastor Roberts who “ignore obvious circumstances that most Christians would prefer to confront.”
The problem of avoiding confrontation can have “unintended consequences,” according to Van Zile. “When someone [like Roberts] passively associates with Islamists,” he warns, “it puts moderate and reformed Muslims in a very difficult position.
“When you have people promoting sex slavery, promoting jihad, and promoting antisemitism, and you go to a conference that’s organized by people with that kind of agenda,” Van Zile argues that “it marginalizes the people who want to reform how Islam is practiced in the West and the rest of the world for that matter.”
It may be wise for Evangelicals who engage in dialogue with people from different religious to vet the people they are engaging with.
“Because when you give people who have said awful things legitimacy,” he indicates, “you risk marginalizing people who are trying to confront them within their own community.”