Survey: 1 of 3 Evangelical Leaders Report Close Muslim Contact

A surprisingly small portion of evangelical leaders in America have had contact with Muslims in the past year, a new survey revealed.

Only 33 percent of leaders on the board of the National Association of Evangelicals, the nation's largest evangelical body, said they have had a serious conversation with a Muslim in the past year, according to the February issue of the NAE's Evangelical Leaders Survey.

An even a smaller number, 27 percent, of the evangelical respondents said they live or work near a mosque.

The vast majority have had no close contact with an Islamic institution (73 percent) or individual Muslims (67 percent).

"Several who said they have not talked with Muslims expressed regret and want to have conversations," commented Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.

"The large majority of Evangelical leaders who have not experienced Islam first-hand are either ignorant of Islam or are getting their information from secondary sources," he said. "I assume that the reverse is also true; that a majority of Muslims are neither connected to nor informed about the faith of Evangelical Christians."

According to the CIA World Factbook, Muslims make up 0.6 percent of the U.S. population. In comparison, Protestant Christians account for 51.3 percent of the population in America.

Among those that reported having serious discussions with Muslims, some indicated that the talks were through formal interfaith dialogues, professional ministry or international travel rather than personal friendships.

One denominational executive admitted that "except from a distance at an airport, I have not even seen a Muslim with which to have a conversation," according to the NAE.

Some evangelical leaders, however, reported positive personal interactions with their Muslim neighbors.

An evangelical leader from Minneapolis said he lives within blocks of two mosques. He shared that during Easter he had discussions with a "kind, hard working young [Muslim] family man" about the two religions' beliefs concerning the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

"We honestly knew very little about each other's religious beliefs, but learning about Islam first-hand from a kind, hard working young family man was very helpful," said Carl H. Nelson, president of Minnesota Association of Evangelicals. "My convictions did not change, but I realized how important it is to understand and engage the belief system of someone who does not yet know Jesus as the Son of God."

Another evangelical leader, from a Hispanic church in California, recalled that a Muslim meeting place in his neighborhood was vandalized last year. Members of his church had helped clean up the meeting place and had sent them an offering.

The NAE survey questioned 100 members of the NAE board of directors that includes heads of evangelical denominations with about 45,000 local churches, executives of para-church organizations and colleges. The NAE claims to represent over 50 denominations and about 30 million constituents.

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