My Meeting with President Morsi of Egypt Last Night
From years of global travel and engagement I’ve come to see the Kevin Costner line in “Dances with Wolves” proved out again and again, “What they say about these people is not true. . . . “. Yes, there are always those that are extremists to the edge – and those are the ones we hear about. They are the ones that make our news and though all news is important, some of it sells a lot better. Those stories that appeal to our fear are always hotter than those that appeal to hope and reason. It’s always easier to hate and vilify others than connect, engage and look for solutions.
Last night, I met with President Morsi of Egypt, along with a few other faith leaders of Judaism, Islam and strands of Christianity. I was the only evangelical in the room. I also met for the second time Egypt’s Foreign Minister and for the first time the Egyptian Ambassador to the US. The President cancelled meetings with 4 other heads of state just to be able to talk about faith, government, and global affairs with faith leaders. John Esposito, who invited me, chaired the group of about 17.
President Morsi started off with a drafted statement to the group. There was nothing in it that anyone would disagree with – it was generic, measured, and politically correct for the context. He said what was being reported and what was reality was often not the same for the people who are living within it. He talked about being the President for all Egyptians for freedom, open society, tolerance and cooperation.
Then came the questions and comments. Dalia Mogahed, American Egyptian, a Gallup researcher asked questions on what pluralism means for Egyptians and what has changed with him since being a candidate and activist and Doctor to now being the President. Questions were asked about youth unemployment, women, the global perception of Islam, etc., what you would expect. I wasn’t in a hurry to speak, being the only evangelical in the room, but when it was time, I did. Here is what I said.
President Morsi, I’m Bob Roberts, an evangelical pastor from Texas. I want you to know that I pray for you, and have prayed for you when I see you on the news, that God will give you wisdom and insight into leading Egypt in this time. Many people in America and in my tribe in particular have fears and concerns about Muslims and the Muslim Brotherhood. Most know neither. You may think, as evangelicals, we all think alike, but we don’t. I come from very conservative roots – to us a Salifist would be liberal! He died laughing and started pointing to someone saying something in Arabic. Mr. President, you should know some of us supported the Mosque being built in New York, not because we are Muslims, we are Christians and I want the whole world to know Jesus, but because of religious freedom. What we do here affects what we do there. You should know that many of us denounced the movie that recently has caused the uproar. You should know that as an evangelical I support Israel and always will, but I also support the two state solution, just as the Rabbi who just spoke of the two state solution, and I equally support the Palestinian people.
He interrupted me, “Are you serious?” Yes sir, I am. “I have never heard this about evangelicals – this is new to me.” I told him he could not change the perception of Islam (this is something he brought up, that he wanted to change the perception of Islam in the West) in America and I cannot change the perception of evangelicals in Islam – but we can speak to our own tribes and be bridges between each other to work together. As we come to know one another, not on the news, but as friends, it changes everything. Sayid Syeed, one of the founders of ISNA was there – I told the President getting to know men like him changes people. We must challenge our own tribes.
Also, dialogue is good, but connecting with one another is even better in people to people relationships. I’ve been a part of connecting imams and pastors and everyday citizens in different countries and even in my own city. We had an event last year at our church where 2500 Muslims and Christians gathered at an evangelical church to build bridges. “Are you serious? I have never heard this. This is good to hear. I cannot believe this. You must be serious you are here.” I told him I was serious, I was a Texan – lots of laughter. If he would like, I’d love to come and bring pastors and connect them with imams and their congregants to do projects together. I told him, my focus isn’t on Christians in Egypt but connecting people of different faiths for the common good of the city. He told me I want to talk to you, and I want you to come to Egypt to see for yourself what is happening there. And I want you to pay your own way! Everybody exploded in laughter. I told him I would.
I then asked him, “Would you be willing to connect and build a relationship between our peoples?” He said yes. I then asked, so as President, what are you doing to protect the religious freedom of the Copts and others that are Christians?” He told me there were incidents, but it isn’t like what is portrayed on the news. He once again told me to come and see for myself. He told me being the President requires him to do so and being a good Muslim does as well. He said he wouldn’t be a good President if he didn’t. He seemed passionate in his answer. I thanked him for committing to protect Christians – I asked him how I could help him as well.
Other things stood out, the Copt leader actually agreed with the assessment of the President on his view on freedom of religions. The Copt leader said the most important thing is that we show the love of Jesus.
Someone asked a question and President Morsi relied, “Egypt is not an Islamic state it is a civil state. He said 4 words characterized all they were trying to do: democratic, civil, constitutional, rule of law. Keep in mind the Egyptian press and media were in the meeting which was incredible, him being a Muslim Brotherhood, but saying this.
I gave him a “Texas” ballpoint pen, and an advanced reader copy of my new book, “Bold as Love”. There were many other things discussed, but as I left, what stuck out in my mind was his deliberate positions shared with a lot of humility and trying to reach out to all of us. He was also honest in making it clear things had a way to go and he was doing his best. I’m going to give him space and grace. I’m grateful people have given me that throughout my life. It doesn’t mean I agree with him on everything or won’t share my views and concerns.
Whether I agree with a man’s religion or understand his politics God can still use any man for his glory and his will – whether the man is my faith or not – seems like I remember a story about Pharoah and the Israelites once before. Only time will tell what the future holds and what kind of leader President Morsi will be. But for me, I will pray for him, and help anyway I can, without compromising my faith and convictions. I want my children and grandchildren to grow up knowing their Dad and grandad did all he could to exemplify the love of Jesus and make this world a safer place and also change the perceptions that Muslims and others in the world have of evangelical Christians, so they would be more open to discovering the Jesus that has changed so many of us.
Bob is the founder, senior leader, and chief spokesman for Glocal.net . His primary focus is to connect leaders and estabish relationships to explore transformation. Follow Bob on Twitter at @bobrobertsjr.