Reflections from the Baptist/Muslim Dialogue, April 16-19, 2018

Originally published on May 2, 2018

Bearing Witness to Confront Negative Stereotypes about Islam

How do you begin conversations with parishioners and neighbors at home whose minds seemed closed by negative stereotypes of Islam?

We Baptists wondered this aloud as we left the third national Baptist-Muslim Dialogue in Green Lake, Wisconsin.

We spoke at length about confronting Islamophobia in our churches and communities.

Does this mean correcting Uncle John at the Thanksgiving table? Sometimes. What about writing a letter to the editor of our local newspaper or our state representative? Absolutely. How about having an uncomfortable conversation with a Sunday School class? Certainly. But is this all we are called to do?

I then remembered Mohammed Elsanousi, director of the Secretariat of the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers, explaining earlier in the dialogue, “When we do things like this in Islam, we are not allowed to do them on our own. We are instructed to invite our non-Muslim neighbors to witness what we are doing to hold us accountable.”

He was speaking about his advocacy for the Marrakesh Declaration, a document authored by Muslim scholars across the globe urging Muslim-majority countries to protect Christians and other religious minorities.

As a Baptist, I was deeply moved by this effort that honored the legacy of John Smyth, Thomas Helwys, Roger Williams and John Leland, just as much as the Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him.

I felt God calling me not to be a witness in the sense of accountability, but to “bear witness,” to share the good news about the compassionate, sacrificial work my Muslim neighbors were doing with all who would listen.

I felt this call again when Imad Enchassi, imam of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, who saw Christian soldiers massacre Muslims in his refugee camp as a child, embraced a Baptist pastor and called him his “brother from another mother.”

I felt called to bear witness as Anwar Khan, president of Islamic Relief USA, spoke about Islamic Relief’s work to feed Rohingya Muslims in Bangladeshi refugee camps and help hurricane victims in Tarboro, North Carolina.

I felt called to bear witness to the faith of brothers like Muhammad Adeyinka Mendes, resident scholar and imam at the Muslim Center of Greater Princeton, as he showed us how to wash our hands, arms, feet and head to cleanse ourselves from the dirt of our lives and invited us to pray shoulder to shoulder.

One of my new Muslim friends told me he feels closest to God with his face on the ground, and for a moment I understood what he meant.

I felt called to bear witness to the mystery of God I experienced as I fell to my knees and the kinship I felt as I heard “Peace be upon you” spoken to me over the shoulder of my brother.

Over the years, I have been quick to call out what I saw was wrong in talk about Muslims and Islam.

While I still believe this kind of critique is important, now I feel more compelled to bear witness to what is right about the lives of my Muslim neighbors.

What if we focused on telling the stories of their spiritual journeys and their acts of neighbor-love that rarely make the headlines?

What if we committed to give testimony to the connection we feel with God in conversation, prayer and shared meals with our Muslim friends? How might this change the conversation?

Perhaps it would open up just enough wonder to transcend our typical arguments.

Maybe it would build enough of a platform to allow us as interfaith advocates to stop being defenders of Islam and step aside to allow our Muslim friends to tell their own stories with the possibility of being known and loved in our communities.

Willie Jennings, associate professor of Systematic Theology and Africana Studies at Yale Divinity School, writes that the key to dismantling racism is not knowledge but desire.

We don’t change because we gain more knowledge. We change because we fall in love with those we have been taught to hate.

Could it be the same with dismantling Islamophobia?

I love my Muslim sisters and brothers and I will bear witness to the beauty of their lives, hoping that others will see what I see in them. I will not be silent.

Originally Published on May 3rd, 2018 in the Alliance of Baptists’ Connections

Renewed by the kinship built between Baptists and Muslims

by Drew Herring

“When we encounter diversity it is an opportunity for us to acknowledge our limits.” In these words from Dr. Raimundo Barreto, assistant professor of world Christianity at Princeton Theological Seminary, I heard God’s invitation to listen deeply and intentionally at this Third National Baptist-Muslim Dialogue April 16-19.

As Dr. Barreto spoke, I looked around the room at the Anglo, African American, Latino, Asian, and Arab brothers and sisters who had traveled across North America to Green Lake, Wis. Our gathering was specifically organized with the hope of mobilizing young leaders, but we were graced with the presence of many generations.

In addition to the congregations and educational institutions we serve, our group of 62 participants represented the Alliance of Baptists, American Baptists, Baptist World Alliance, Canadian Baptists, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, National Baptists, Progressive National Baptists, Lott Carey, the Islamic Center of North America, and Islamic Relief USA.

Like the National Baptist-Muslim dialogues that preceded it, this dialogue included sessions highlighting theological distinctives and theological common ground between Baptists and Muslims, as well as both groups’ initiatives to promote religious liberty and social justice around the world. What made the 2018 dialogue unique was its focus on relationships. Each participant was challenged to begin, or strengthen, a relationship with a partner of the other faith tradition and create a covenant between their two congregations at home.

To empower us in this goal, our sessions were less academic and more rooted in lived experience. Our Muslim sisters and brothers spoke about the everyday consequences of Islamaphobia, telling stories of wrongful accusations, death threats, protests, loan denials and violence.

In a particularly poignant moment, Anwar Khan, president of Islamic Relief USA, reminded us that his experience of being held by the Transportation Secretary Administration (TSA) was not that different from the treatment his African American sisters and brothers might receive from police anytime they are behind the wheel of a car. Anwar had named the elephant in the room. While he appreciated the concern about Islamaphobia by our group of mostly white Baptists, he reminded us that we still had much intrafaith work to do to dismantle racism within our own tradition.

Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the United States. Global Christianity and the American Church along with it is growing fastest among poor and immigrant communities, particularly among Latina women. What would it look like if instead of choosing fight or flight, white Baptists like me decided to acknowledge our limits? What if we preemptively embraced our position outside of the center of the shifting religious landscape by giving up power? What if we

saw the growing diversity of Christianity and the broader community as an opportunity to listen and learn not just about our neighbors, but about the multi-faceted image of the God we share?

Returning from Green Lake, I am renewed by the kinship built between Baptists and Muslims in hard, side-hurting laughter and tender, tearful vulnerability. I am renewed by the God I met as I prayed with my face on the ground beside my Muslim brother and served communion beside my African American sister.

I am renewed in my calling to end racism and Islamaphobia, not just as a pathway to greater social justice but for a deeper participation in God’s work to break down the barriers that prevent us from seeing the fullness of God in and through each other.

I am grateful to be part of an Alliance of Baptists family that has responded to this call time and time again over 31 years, and continues toward the voice of the Lord together.


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