New York — 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.”
Indeed, most American Evangelicals, like many others in the country, view the religion of Islam with deep suspicion, if not fear. From the attacks of 9/11 to the bombings at the Boston Marathon and shooting in Chattanooga, Tenn., to the barbarous actions of the Islamic State, such violence has led many Americans to view the nation’s Muslim communities with wariness and even outright hostility. And no group is cooler toward Muslims than white evangelical Protestants, a Pew survey this year found.
But this doesn’t tell the whole story, many leaders say. Across the country, a number of influential evangelical congregations have been engaging their Muslim neighbors in new ways, and some local mosques, too, have been trying to help Evangelicals and others during their times of need.
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. Some of these were ruled acts of arson in the 10-day aftermath of the Charleston shootings, in which a young white supremacist shot and killed nine members of the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church last month. Moving Beyond Suspicion