Today I finished the book A Deadly Misunderstanding by Mark Siljander, and I vigorously recommend it. A former Republican congressman with impeccable conservative credentials, colleague of Newt Gingrich and the “Young Turks” of the Reagan Revolution, Mark was also a staunch conservative Evangelical Christian, solid supporter of Israel and opponent of communists and Muslims wherever they might be found. Challenged not long after an electoral defeat, to find the scriptural basis for his conviction to convert others to Christianity, Mark discovered to his shock that the supposed command wasn’t there. But rather than pull back into his comfortable religious shell, Mark did the crazy thing: he learned Greek and Aramaic and started digging into what the original languages of the New Testament actually taught.
Without trying to tell Mark’s story for him (which I couldn’t anyhow–he tells it too well himself), let me just say that he’s a shining example of what can happen when a true believer in Jesus allows for the dangerous possibility that what Jesus said and taught might actually be lived. In Mark’s case, that has meant learning Arabic and studying the Qur’an too, and discovering between Quranic Arabic, New Testament Aramaic, and Old Testament Hebrew, that an awful lot of the buzz words our faiths use to keep us apart, are actually the same words–or at least words with the same roots–in the Semitic language family. For example, he demonstrates with some weight, that the Aramaic word “salem” that the Peshitta (Aramaic New Testament) uses to describe repentance and turning to Jesus, is of the same root as the Arabic word for “submission” to God (a Mu-slim is “one who submits or surrenders” to God).
I want to be clear: this is no milquetoast universalist pablum. Siljander is NOT claiming some notion of all roads leading to God. What he’s doing is far more careful and well-thought than that. He is demonstrating the frequency with which fundamental–often violent–differences between the Abrahamic faiths are based on ignorance: not only ignorance of the “other’s” faith, but all too often ignorance of the actual text and context of our own faith and its creeds. In this, he’s coming to a conclusion a Muslim roommate and I (with far less scholarship) came to more than 20 years ago: if both of us and our brothers merely were careful to follow what OUR OWN SCRIPTURES actually said, we’d find a lot of common ground, and at the very least, we couldn’t fight each other.
Through story after story, Siljander tells how dealing with the actual person and teaching of Jesus (as opposed to the theological constructs ABOUT Jesus that make up most creeds), has opened doors for loving, peacemaking relations with Muslim, Buddhist, and other religious and political leaders on three continents. This book is a powerful call to live in submission to the Prince of Peace, not in word and doctrine, but in actual love and practice.