Despite opposition, Mo-Ranch proceeds with Islamic youth event

A decision by the Mo-Ranch Conference Center in Texas to allow an Islamic group to hold a retreat later this month for Muslim teenagers is drawing criticism from some local Christians.

The Islamic Society of North America is planning a retreat for about 100 teenagers from the Muslim Youth of North America at Mo-Ranch from Dec. 19 to 25. The winter retreat is an annual gathering for Muslim teenagers from around the country, but a group called the Hill Country Oak Initiative is protesting the conference, with organizers saying they are concerned that the Islamic Society could have terrorist links.

Supporters of the Hill Country group have been inundating Mo-Ranch with e-mails and phone calls, but after word began to spread supporters of Mo-Ranch’s interfaith commitment also have begun sending messages of support.

David Jordan, Mo-Ranch’s president, declined to discuss the matter in detail, referring instead to a statement he issued on Dec. 14.

In that statement, Jordan said Mo-Ranch is showing “Christian hospitality” by hosting the conference.

“Consistent with Mo-Ranch’s values as a Presbyterian center, we do also welcome people from other Christian groups and from time to time members of non-Christian faith traditions in support of better interfaith communication, especially in these times of great misunderstanding among these American religious communities,” Jordan said in the statement. “In so doing, Mo-Ranch is being neither un-Christian nor unpatriotic as some recent phone calls and e-mails have alleged.”

The statement describes the Islamic Society of North America as a prominent Muslim organization that has been involved in interfaith dialogue with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and other religious groups. Last summer, for example, the society’s director of communications and community outreach, Mohamed Elsanousi, spoke at the PC(USA)’s General Assembly regarding a paper on Christian-Jewish relations.

Jordan’s statement also says this: “Contrary to some claims currently being circulated, Presbyterian Mo-Ranch Camp and Conference Center is not hosting a Muslim terrorist group later this month nor a group training Muslim youth to become jihadists. Nor would Mo-Ranch ever host such a group.”

But Mo-Ranch is drawing criticism from some Texans involved with the Oak Initiative, which describes itself on its Web site as a grassroots organization trying to follow the biblical mandate to be “oaks of righteousness” (from Isaiah 61:3) in trying to support the United States, a country which it describes as being “in crisis.” The Oak Initiative’s president, Rick Joyner, is an author and executive director of MorningStar Ministries and Heritage International Ministries, and other board members include people from religious and military backgrounds.

A letter from Randy Simmons – who is a pastor from Kerrville, Texas, near Mo-Ranch, and a leader of the Hill Country Oak Initiative Chapter – was posted on a local Oak Initiative website.

That letter, addressed to “Texas Oak Members,” states that the Islamic Society of North America is one of more than 300 unindicted co-conspirators the U.S. Department of Justice named in connection with the Holy Land Foundation investigation and trial. That charitable foundation and five individual defendants were found guilty in 2008, after an earlier mistrial, of illegally routing more than $12 million to the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

The Islamic Society has disputed its inclusion on the unindicted co-conspirators list. Its website states that it has never “supported any covert, illegal or terrorist activity or organization.”

The letter from Simmons states, in part that:

“We support the rights of Muslim Americans to worship Allah. As Christian Americans, we must be defenders of religious rights. However, we cannot support those whose stated purpose is to undermine the constitution of the United States and replace it with Shariah law. (Islamic law) There is a difference in Muslims who want to share in the American dream and be responsible citizens of the United States and those bent on destroying it.

“Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) along with the Muslim brotherhood has made it clear by their own writings that they are dedicated to the destruction of the American constitution and the American way of life. They want Shariah! They want to turn America into an Islamic republic!

“We must resist them! It is imperative that they see the people of our community are awake and know what is happening. If unchallenged they will be tempted to buy land, build a mosque and start a settlement.”