Learn about the Koran — from a Lutheran pastor

(video no longer available due to blip.tv shutdown)

That’s Pastor Ron Marshall, longtime leader of First Lutheran Church of West Seattle, getting ready for the next session of his Koran course (starting in early June). He’s been teaching a course about the Koran for several years, but a recent note from him is the first time it’s come to our attention since we started WSB, so we thought it would be interesting to talk with him about the admittedly unusual circumstance of a Christian leader teaching about the Muslims’ holy book:

The note arrived in our inbox in events-calendar format, as follows:

First Lutheran Church of West Seattle
4105 California Ave. SW
Have you wanted to know for yourself what the Koran says in a world where Islam is mentioned nearly every day in the news? Then make plans now to join this four-week guided reading led by Pastor Ron Marshall — who’s been teaching this class in West Seattle since 2003. Classes are Thursday nights, June 5, 12, 19, and 26, 7 to 9 pm. The $50 registration fee includes an authorized translation of the Koran for your keeping. Worksheets and other background handouts from Islamic scholars will be provided for each class session the week before. Call now to register or make inquiries. Enrollment is limited.

We hadn’t seen the coverage in previous years about Pastor Marshall’s class, and we thought it might be news to some others too. He agreed to our interview request and welcomed us to First Lutheran (even taking us on a tour of its majestically decorated sanctuary before we left). He says the bottom line of his class is that the Koran isn’t what you may think:

(video no longer available due to blip.tv shutdown)

Pastor Marshall is a scholar and an essayist (more on his background on this page of the FLCWS website) and says he first became intrigued by the Koran because the founder/namesake of his faith, Martin Luther, had an extensive interest in it. He offered a class for a while in the ’80s, after a Seattle mosque opening stirred interest, but then that interest waned — until the aftermath of 9/11. He’s been teaching this version since 2003. He says those who take the class are often surprised to learn that the Koran talks about the Bible – which was published centuries earlier:

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He says he’s received support from local Muslim leaders over the years.

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Marshall says his congregation has been supportive and unafraid of the controversy that might potentially have been brought by his class. If you’re interested in his Koran class (which he has even been asked to teach in other venues, including a one-day workshop in California), scroll back up for the contact info, or find it on the FLCWS website, where you’ll also find much more information about the regular offerings in First Lutheran, which is on California just north of The Junction.

26 Replies to "Learn about the Koran -- from a Lutheran pastor"

  • theprint May 25, 2008 (12:00 pm)

    This seems weird to me. If I want to learn about the Koran, the obvious approach would be to contact an imam. Just like I’d contact a priest to learn about the bible. Call me paranoid, but I would never trust someone of one faith to properly represent another.

  • PSPS May 25, 2008 (2:21 pm)

    theprint: It’s easy to understand the thinking behind this. Islam has been so demonized for political purposes by Bush and his ilk, as well as the corporate media charged with propping him up, that many who might be interested in a non-propagandistic exploration of it would be more comfortable with a white christian guy than “one of them.”

  • WSB May 25, 2008 (4:13 pm)

    and that’s exactly what Pastor Marshall said in our interview, if you weren’t able to listen to the clips … he freely admits it’s “second best” to learn about it from him, but many people feel “safer”than they would just going to a mosque and learning there, and it’s clear he wishes that weren’t the case.

  • WSMom May 25, 2008 (4:36 pm)

    I enjoyed listening to your interview with Pastor Marshall. Thank you for giving him an opportunity to speak and explain his approach to teaching the Koran. I think it’s great that he is doing his part to bridge the gap between Muslims and Christians. It sounds to me like he is very respectful of the Muslim faith

  • GenHillOne May 25, 2008 (8:02 pm)

    Commendable yes, but now, if he could only bridge his gap with the LGBT community (I read the wedding page on the attached link). The essay “What I Tell My Gay Friends” is um, interesting.

  • JT May 25, 2008 (9:42 pm)

    GHO, I thought the same when I read it. Seems determined to ignore any new information contrary to his conservative (his label) viewpoint. Just how outdated and disproved is the theory you can change if you pray hard enough. Course there’s always celibacy according to him if you just can’t control the sinning. Wrap it up in a smile and tell everyone to be nice to those gays and somehow it’s all OK. Think I’ll get my info elsewhere.

  • OP May 25, 2008 (11:38 pm)

    Islam has been so demonized for political purposes by Bush and his ilk…

    Seriously, that’s the single most retarded thing I’ve seen said on this blog—and even it is just barely ahead of the rest of your post. Name ONE derogatory thing President Bush has said against Islam. Just one [edited]. (And yes, WSB, my reply/comeback is warranted.) And his “ilk” who’ve questioned and condemned and are outraged at the bastardization of a great religion by a fanatical branch of Islam are well within their right to do so.

    Now, on to the topic. Good for Pastor Marshall for attempting to bridge the gulf between the religions (all of them). I can’t speak to his teachings, but I’ve heard of him and his efforts are admirable if even on the surface.

  • WSB May 25, 2008 (11:58 pm)

    Directly calling someone else in the comment thread an insulting term is not allowed, so I’m excising that part of the previous comment. Criticizing/critiquing what they say, fine. Calling them a name, even if not profane, not fine. — TR

  • nwveggie May 26, 2008 (12:16 am)

    GHO and JT….just a note about this particular pastor….please know that he is considered to be extreme regarding the GLBT issue in his own denomination of ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). If, by chance, you’re looking for a welcoming Lutheran church, I’ve found one in Peace Lutheran on Thistle St. And I mean welcoming into full participation in the community celebrated for who you are…not just fake smiles.

    That’s a side bar to this topic….I do commend Pr. Marshall for this teaching on the Koran.

  • JT May 26, 2008 (12:22 am)

    OP, not a fan of Bush but I agree that all of his statements are respectful of the Islamic faith. There is however, a conservative faction that does not separate Islam from terrorism. My estranged family would be in that category. And, the very fact that some would feel *safer* learning about this religion from a white christian, speaks to that as well.

    By the way, as a proud liberal, I had never heard of BDS. Had to look it up. Is it contagious? :)


    And back to topic. I also agree that it is a good thing to learn how others think/believe. Just not from this man.

  • JT May 26, 2008 (12:31 am)

    And nwveggie, I am not personally interested, but thank-you for sharing an inclusive alternative. It’s always good to know they exist.

  • Wes May 26, 2008 (8:31 am)

    I think it is best to always read things within the context of the original readers and writers then see how it applies to today. Having read most of the Koran and done research on Muhammad, I have found that extreme fundametalist islamic Muslims are pretty right on with their interpretation of the Koran. But this is only a small percentage of all Muslims. Most Muslims, in my opinion, ignore or brush over the more sinister parts of the Koran, thus being able to call Isalm the religion of peace.
    As for Bush, he is more of a unversalist than a Christian IMO

  • charlabob May 26, 2008 (9:24 am)

    WSB, thank you for the interview and what, to me, is a clarification. I’ve read the blurbs about the course and assumed he was one of those folks who teaches any other religion as a prelude to Xtianity. (A Muslim for Jesus approach–as a Jew, who’s spent years battling Jews for Jesus, I’m a bit wary.) Sounds like, in this area, he is definitely trying to do something positive.

    To everyone else on the digressive discussion about Bush, it’s very disingenuous to say Bush doesn’t say negative things about Islam. The attitude that has been fostered goes far beyond uttering words.

  • OP May 26, 2008 (12:13 pm)

    To everyone else on the digressive discussion about Bush, it’s very disingenuous to say Bush doesn’t say negative things about Islam. The attitude that has been fostered goes far beyond uttering words.

    Again, this is complete rhetorical, hyperbolic garbage.

  • Kayleigh May 26, 2008 (1:06 pm)

    So, Michelle Malkin, one of the stars in the right wing tool box, is doing her part to keep the fires of mistrust going…


    I never would have known a patterned scarf was so symbolic, had I not researched it, thanks to Ms. Malkin.

    I don’t know how Rachel Ray feels about Islam, Palestine, or Jews. Maybe Ms. Malkin ought to call and ask her.

  • JT May 26, 2008 (1:41 pm)

    Kayleigh, I wouldn’t have believed you without that link. The comment thread left me speechless.

  • Shawn May 26, 2008 (3:48 pm)

    Deeds, not words, are believable. Anger and discounting are not credible tactics when discussing ideas in a community atmosphere.

  • Wes May 26, 2008 (5:48 pm)

    Shawn, So should we not believe you becasue you used words? Are you too not also trying to discount OP?

    I’m just sayin’.

  • OP May 26, 2008 (10:34 pm)

    Anger and discounting are not credible tactics when discussing ideas in a community atmosphere.

    I’m discounting his “argument” because it’s devoid of facts or examples to back up his weak and baseless assertion(s). That isn’t anger, bub, that’s just setting the record straight. And the whole “deeds, not words, are believable” is too cryptic and lacking context as to what you’re referring.

  • Kayleigh May 27, 2008 (6:08 am)

    OP, I just gave you an example of how the neo-cons let people like Michelle Malkin do their dirty work so their hands appear clean.

    For the record, I have no opinion on Islam, though I appreciate the pastor’s good intentions to build the bridges to understanding. I feel like it would take a long long time for me to truly understand Islam or Arabic culture to make even a remotely fair judgment.

    I don’t like fundamentalist anything, though…it shows a certain inflexibility and intolerance…and of *course* I don’t like terrorists.

    Now what am I gonna do with all my Rachel Ray cookbooks, now that I know she’s a jihadist? ;-)

  • scian May 27, 2008 (10:37 am)

    What OP said. All of what OP said….

  • OP May 27, 2008 (10:38 am)


    You seem to operate on the assumption that Malkin is somehow on the GOP payroll. She is not. And it’s a free country; how exactly are we “neo-cons” (a term that’s over 50 years old BTW, so it’s hardly “new”; not to mention that “neo-con” is used to marginalize and demonize the right) “letting” Malkin do “our dirty work”? If that’s the case, then MoveOn.org, DailyKos, Code Pink and pretty much any George Soros-funded organization are on the Democratic payroll and doing their dirty work, too. But they’re not. In all cases, none can or should be “stopped” forcibly. Spoken out against should you disagree? Absolutely. Look, Malkin’s a bit of a “bombthrower” on topics. Do I agree with her on the RR “keffiyeh gaffe”? Nah, not really. If RR wishes to symbolically align herself with the Palestinian cause by wearing the traditional headdress donned by terrorists and their organizations like the PLO, Hamas and Hezbollah, then fine. In the end, she looks just as dumb and ill-informed as the kids who go around wearing Che Guevera t-shirts and who think Lenin was a neat guy.

    On the topic (finally): Christian fundamentalism and Islamic fundamentalism are easily distinguishable by one very large issue: death. Why one should be more frightened at the expanse of the latter that calls for the death of all nonbelievers rather than the former which does no such thing, is clear. One need not look any further than the present state of fundamentalist Iran that openly calls for the annihilation of Israel and the West, denies the Holocaust, executes gays and puts women to death for things like being raped or wearing their burquas incorrectly. Lastly, as some argue, even if Islamic fundamentalism only represents 8-10% of the religion as a whole (and that’s at least 1 billion worldwide) then that’s 80-100 million people who can cause the world on helluva a lot of trouble. And they already are as anyone who’s paying attention should know. More frightening perhaps is the seeming tolerance of the terrorism by moderate Muslims who either don’t speak out against it, or only mildly condemn it. (I imagine fear and intimidation from the groups I mentioned above have a lot to do with that silence. There are some fascinating papers/articles circulating on the subject of moderate Muslims that really bring this matter into question.) Nonetheless, we keep hearing about this moderate Muslims, but we hear and see so little of them that it makes one wonder where exactly they stand in all this, and that’s disconcerting. I don’t know if the good pastor addresses any of this, but if not, he should.

    Now what am I gonna do with all my Rachel Ray cookbooks, now that I know she’s a jihadist?
    Use them as a base in one of her “30-Minute Meal” in place of chicken stock? ;-) (I’m kidding! I own 2 of her books as well and love her recipes. Her chili suiza bake is out-friggin’-standing!)

  • JT May 27, 2008 (1:13 pm)

    OP, I’m not sure yet, but I think I found your post almost reasonable. I must be trying too many of your tequila recommendations :)

  • Wes May 27, 2008 (6:00 pm)

    Good post OP. Doesn’t take much research to figure out the numbers of fundamentalist Muslims is a staggering number that we should be concerned with. I have found that moderate Muslims are like cultural Christians, they say they believe and they might, but really don’t practice what they believe and go to church out of habit and just religious stuff like that.
    Good conversation here.

  • OP May 27, 2008 (10:40 pm)

    LOL. Happy shooting, JT! ;-)

  • OP May 28, 2008 (12:18 am)

    There actually was a Muslim manifesto released about the time of Mohammad Danish cartoon riots. Written by Mustafa Akyol and Zeyno Baran, it appeared in the National Review on March 1, 2006. In it they called on Muslims to sign the petition that stated Muslims, acting in accordance with the Koran, should cconduct themselves peacefully in demonstrations, condone terrorism and declared support for democracy (“We support and cherish democracy — not because we reject the sovereignty of the Almighty over people, but because we believe that this sovereignty is manifested in the general will of people in a democratic and pluralistic society.”) The petition also rejected sharia law and other means of oppression leaders in countries like Iran employ to control their people.

    I honestly don’t know how many people signed the petition or what became of it, but as one of my cryptic detractors said earlier “deeds, not words” are what’s needed to root out this violence faction in Islam. IMO, what Islam needs is a Muslim-version of Martin Luther King. Perhaps they had that in Anwar Sadat, and we all know what happened to there—Ayman al-Zawhiri, bin Laden’s now #2 head-asshat was deeply involved in his murder. But I fear that kind of inspirational and peaceful leader is a long, long way off in the Muslim world—especially when the disease of anti-semitism is used as a means of infecting the population of the middle east into following its current leaders like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Khaled Mashaal (Hamas), Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah (Hezbollah), Bashar Asaad (Syria) and radical clerics like Moqtada al Sadr. Until their lights are dimmed across the globe, we’ll have a tough row to hoe.

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