Ten years ago, the citizens of Colorado voted on Amendment 2, a very controversial amendment to our state constitution that sought to prevent sexual orientation from being used in discrimination lawsuits. In the months leading up to the vote, the news media frequently interviewed religious and local leaders for their perspectives. Too often, the leaders disputed with one another via the press, and journalists learned that they could juxtapose leaders against one another and get a spicy story every time.
Immediately after the election, community leaders from both sides of the political divide came together to talk about the Amendment 2 situation and other local concerns. The mayor of Colorado Springs, the local Jewish rabbi, James Dobson, parachurch ministry leaders, and myself and other church pastors all began to meet monthly to discuss various issues. Our purpose was to hammer out issues in private to ensure that neither the national nor local press would ever pit us against one another again.
Now, over a decade later, it is clear that those meetings proved successful. Those of us in that group are deeply divided on many issues, but our divisions do not air in the public press, and that is good for our city.
On May 7th of this year, the National Association of Evangelicals and the Institute on Religion and Democracy held a four-hour discussion in Washington, D.C., on Islamic-Christian dialogue.
During this exchange, we received reports from researchers and scholars, then had an open dialogue on how the next 20 years of a shrinking globe would force additional contact between Muslims and Christians. We talked about how we can position ourselves to be the most effective at communicating the gospel to moderate Muslims.
Interestingly, after this meeting, the press assumed that the meeting's purpose was to rebuke evangelical leaders who have commented publicly on Islam. I was fascinated by their coverage because during our meeting, these ministers were never the subject of discussion.
When I read the paper, I laughed, thinking that no one who was familiar with the evangelical world would believe the report. I was wrong. WORLD magazine, which didn't have representation at the meeting, reported in their May 17 issue, "Evangelicals blast Graham for past remarks on Islam." They quoted Clive Calver, president of World Relief, from comments that he made to WORLD, but WORLD presented his remarks as though they had been given during the D.C. meeting. Thankfully, Christianity Today had reporters in the meeting, and they quickly reported on their Web site that these leaders had not been mentioned during the discussion.
Two of the ministries that the press tried to position against this discussion responded wisely. Jerry Falwell, when called by reporters about the meeting, asked questions and quickly determined what the meeting was actually about. Elmer Towns, who I have known for years, gave Falwell my cell phone number and Falwell called me. When I spoke with him on the phone, he had a clear and perceptive understanding of the subject actually discussed.
Michael Little, the president of the Christian Broadcasting Network and a close personal friend, called me immediately and connected me with Pat Robertson. Robertson communicated his love for and desire to communicate the gospel effectively to Islamic groups, and we spoke warmly about advancing those objectives. Our working together in the past provided a relational connection that prevented misunderstanding from unnecessarily separating the body.
We can help one another if we communicate. But those who are out of the communication loop can jump to conclusions and allow the press to divide the body of believers.
Simply put: This is the generation that has the opportunity to reach the world for Christ, but it is going to take the whole body, joined together. We need to protect and nourish the relationships that will prevent outside forces from separating us. We have done it for 10 years in our little city, and we are beginning to do it nationally. Let's keep it up, and connect in the body together. When we do, it will be easier for those considering our message to receive and believe.
Ted Haggard pastors New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He is the author of many books and is the newly elected president of the National Association of Evangelicals.