An ecumenical jihad was the subject of a conference, “Not of This World,” held at Rose Hill College in Aiken, South Carolina, last May. Here Eastern Orthodox Christians hosted Roman Catholics and evangelical Protestants in an effort to discover common ground and build on it. In a surprising demarche, Boston College professor of philosophy Peter Kreeft delivered an address entitled “Ecumenical jihad” (recently published in a book edited by Professor James Cutsinger of the University of South Carolina). Under the slogan “Today = Decay,” Professor Kreeft briefly outlined the social degeneracy of our day, giving particular emphasis to the sexual licentiousness of the West. According to Kreeft, God has let Satan loose upon the world, thus causing Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox to make common cause against him. But then came his ecumenical bombshell: a proposal that the three groups of Christians include not only Jews but also Muslims in this “ecumenical” effort.

His choice of the word “jihad,” an Arab term for holy war, waged at times against Christians and Jews, is a clue to his surprising thesis. “We should not balk at having Muhammad’s followers as our allies against Satan,” he argues. Muslims are often “better Christians” than wimpy nominal Christians, since they honor Jesus and will defend His name against insults—such as removing crucifixes from Catholic schools—while Christians at most wring their hands and look sad. Kreeft envisages the “five kings of orthodoxy,” i.e., the five great monotheistic traditions—Judaism, Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Protestantism, and Islam—making common cause against Satan-inspired social degeneracy. The difficulty is that very few Muslims are interested in making common cause with Christians, to say nothing of Jews.

It should be self-evident that a conception of orthodoxy that includes not merely Christians but Jews and Muslims is itself extremely wimpy. The area of agreement between Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox is considerable—they share the same ecumenical creeds—and it is possible to define them all as “orthodox” on the major doctrines of Christianity, even though there are considerable differences between them on topics such as the authority of tradition, the meaning of justification, and the sacraments. It is also true that the Protestant and Roman Catholic communions, and to a lesser extent, the Eastern Orthodox, contain individuals and groups who question or even repudiate the fundamentals of the traditional faith. Consequently, the traditionalists within the three confessions are coming to see that they have more in common with one another, despite the difference in labels, than they do with liberals in their own confessions. However, most of what they have in common, as reflected in the ecumenical creeds, is not shared with Jews, let alone Muslims.

To label Jews as “orthodox” in this context is strange, for although Christianity originated in Judaism and shares with the older religion the doctrines of monotheism and of biblical authority, the Christian doctrines of the Trinity and of the Incarnation of Christ—touchstones for Christian orthodoxy—are clearly incompatible with Jewish convictions. Some Christians and Jews have sought to bridge this gap with a “two covenant” theory, arguing that the Mosaic covenant is the means of salvation for Jews, while the “new covenant” of Christianity applies to Gentiles.

The history of relations between Christians and Jews is a long and troubled one, with many excesses performed by Christians (the worst of the atrocities, the Nazi genocide, was the work of people who repudiated Christianity). Since World War II it has become increasingly common for Jews and Christians to work together, and this might seem to favor Professor Kreeft’s project. However, it is precisely the evangelical Protestants, the prime Protestant candidates to enlist in Professor Kreeft’s ecumenical jihad, who continue to evangelize Jews, thus provoking antagonism, particularly among the less observant Jews.

To create a common front among Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox is hard enough; to secure the cooperation of Jews in such a common effort, even if they share common moral values, is more difficult, but it is not impossible. The proposal to recruit and include Muslims is, however, highly problematic. Islam is indeed monotheistic, and many of its ethical principles parallel those of Judaism and Christianity. Nevertheless, from its birth, Islam has engaged in aggressive wars of conquest against the Christian lands of the Near East and North Africa, expanding primarily in the wake of conquest, even invading Spain and France, until it was stopped by Charles Martel at Tours in 732. In Asia Minor, the Islamic Arabs and Turks waged war against the Christian empire of Constantinople for 800 years, a policy interrupted for several decades by the Crusades but which resumed to capture Constantinople in 1453. After that, the Turks moved aggressively against southeastern Europe until finally stopped at Vienna in 1682.

While Muslims receive toleration and sometimes even state subsidies in Western democracies, in the countries they dominate Christianity is barely tolerated, and in some cases is aggressively persecuted. Moreover, the nations that consistently line up against Israel are predominantly Muslim. Under such circumstances a jihad is not likely to be ecumenical. By attempting too grand a coalition. Professor Kreeft may have undercut more realistic efforts at making common cause.