I might be the only Christian minister in America who teaches the Quran on an ongoing basis. Since 2003, I've taught a four-week course on it four times a year.
A lifelong Lutheran, I didn't learn until I attended seminary that Martin Luther was interested in Islam, the young Ottoman Empire and the Quran itself. That started my research. Then in 1985 the first mosque was built in Seattle with a hail of controversy over building permits. I visited and met its leaders, who later helped me with a class on Islam that I taught at my congregation, First of West Seattle Lutheran. This fledgling interest skyrocketed after Sept. 11, 2001. That's when I started preparing my class on the Quran, which I initially offered just to the congregation. I've since invited people from outside our congregation, too, and hundreds have attended.
I want to help people read through the Quran on their own. Each two-hour class uses worksheets with questions on some 50 passages from the Quran, designed to get at their rationale and show how they compare and contrast with the Bible.
I'm not a theological liberal looking for a convergence of world religions. There are irresolvable differences between Islam and Christianity that we shouldn't try to explain away. They can and should be enriching — and can be noted in respectful ways. I allow no Islam-bashing. I defend the Quran in class even though I reject its central teachings.
Teaching the class is enjoyable — and I have no plans to quit. I like dispelling ignorance regarding the Quran. For example, nowhere in the Quran does it say that terrorist martyrs will have as a reward from Allah a bevy of virgins awaiting them in heaven.
I like studying what may well be the most important critique of my faith, precisely what the Quran is in large part. In one of my college classes I learned how the Bible looks to one who reads it carefully but critically. I don't read the Quran as God's word, though I do find much that is consistent with what the Bible says (for example, what it says about patience, endurance and divine wisdom). However, I can't abide by the Quran because it stands against the divinity and crucifixion of Jesus Christ and against the Trinity.
I see the Quran as coming from a seventh-century Arian community rather than from God. Even so, I mean no disrespect to the more than 1 billion people worldwide who currently believe (contrary to my faith) that the Quran is God's indisputable word. All I want to do is what Kent said long ago in William Shakespeare's King Lear: "I'll teach you differences."
Check out this week's articles:
Two museums, two worlds: (right) A visit reveals opposing views of Earth's beginnings.
Linking golf with ministry: Retired pastor wins championships, also counsels.
Downside of worship: Average worship attendance plummets — here's a glimpse why.
Life-giving water: Ugandan villagers thank the ELCA.
Also: Faith and tolerance.
This week on our blog:
Amber Leberman (right) asks what "interactive" means to you.
Sonia Solomonson blogs about children's faith.
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