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What Did the Pope Mean?

Christianity, Islam, and the Struggle for Understanding

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On September 12, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI quoted a fourteenth-century Byzantine emperor who said, "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." The reaction was swift and violent. Thousands took to the streets in protest. Churches in the Middle East were firebombed. Morocco recalled its ambassador to the Vatican. On September 17 the pope apologized for offending Muslims with his quotation, saying it did not reflect his personal thought. Reactions to the apology ranged from those who said it did not go far enough to those who said there is nothing for which the pope has to apologize.

This study provides the context in which the Pope made his remarks and looks at reasons for the reaction by many Muslims. It then discusses three theological and ethical issues this situation evokes and suggests some possible actions thoughtful Christians may choose to take.

Steve Lytch is a Presbyterian pastor who has served congregations in Virginia, New Jersey, South Carolina, and Kentucky. Currently he lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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