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Participating in the Baptist-Muslim Dialogue

from Kent Berghuis, Lead Pastor at First Baptist Church Dayton, OH

This story is taken from two different articles printed in the First Baptist Church Dayton newsletter, The Courier. It is divided into two parts for that reason.


Part I: Joining the Baptist-Muslim Dialogue

Most all of us hope for a greater peace in our world. We see the troubles and divisions within our communities and within our political system. Around the world we see the threat of wars, powerful people seeking to impose their will through military means, terrorism bringing fear and possibly even more damaging violent responses. The escalation of conflict is easy enough to see, and sadly we often feel as if it might be inevitable.

If the world is to see a greater peace, then the world's great religions need to help lead the way. Significant parts of western civilization find themselves in frequent conflicts with parts of the Islamic world for various reasons. As a result people on both sides tend to stereotype the other as the enemy, and religious impulses often reinforce the dualistic notion that the other is evil while justifying their own as good. As Christians, we follow a Lord who blessed the peacemakers, who told us to announce good news to the nations. We might ask ourselves what we can do to encourage the dynamics that lead toward peace, even in our own small ways.

Such an opportunity is coming our way. A number of years ago the Baptist World Alliance and the American Baptist Churches, of which we are a part, responded to a surprising initiative. A significant call went out from moderate Muslim leaders to ask Christians to join them in conversation about how we could help our cultures to appreciate one another and dwell together in better harmony. As a result several dialogues have been held between Baptists and Muslims. In some countries Baptists have even played a pivotal role as peacemakers between other feuding people groups.

Last year our church hosted Dr. Roy Medley, retired General Secretary of our denomination, who has been instrumental in these meetings. Roy reached out to our church and asked if we would like to take part in the next phase of these meetings. Pastor Jason Alspaugh and I will be going to the Green Lake Conference Center in Wisconsin from April 16-19. There will be speakers representing both Baptist and Islamic perspectives, and dialogues back and forth.

It is hoped that this will lead to promoting meaningful inter-faith dialogues in our local communities. What exactly this might look like yet, we do not know. But I ask you to pray for us, for our city, and for our world and its different faith traditions. We will report back to you in the future as we see how this might develop for us. I know we as a church want to follow the Prince of Peace into greater understanding and profound love for the peoples of this world.


Part II: Reflections on the Baptist-Muslim Dialogue

One of the most impressive memories from the Baptist-Muslim Dialogue that Pastor Jason and I attended in Green Lake, Wisconsin from April 16-19 was the snow! We drove through flurries, were greeted with several inches on the ground and added several more during our stay. It wasn't so much April as the 96th of January.

We gathered with about 75 people, with the Baptists significantly outnumbering the Muslims (about 60-15). They reminded us that Muslims are a tiny minority in America, and that those who are willing and gifted at doing inter-faith work have far more opportunities than they can even accept. Many deeper reflections by a number of the participants can be found on www.ethicsdaily.com.

It was very encouraging to hear the efforts being made not only in the USA but also around the world on behalf of peaceful religious dialogue. In particular, the Marrakesh Declaration promotes religious freedom and peaceful understandings (check it out at www.marrakeshdeclaration.org). Some of the Muslim leaders were involved in disaster relief efforts, and spoke of how difficult it can be to travel and share funds with those in need in the Muslim world due to international hostilities. Others spoke of the challenges they faced in their communities, often receiving discrimination or death threats.

Baptist leaders explained our forms of worship and some of our rituals, including baptism and the Lord's Supper. Muslims explained their own pillars, including ritual washings and modes of prayer. It was quite educational and also moving to invite each other to understand and experience these with genuine empathy. As Pastor Jason mentioned in a recent sermon, one of the Muslim leaders said that he expected us to be polite, but he was surprised to find us to be affectionate.

One special joy was reconnecting with a number of friends. Dr. Jonathan Malone is one many of you will remember, and who I knew from our time together as pastors in the Philadelphia suburbs. I was reminded how glad I am to be back in fellowship with the ABC-USA that affords such opportunities. I even got to see friends from Oklahoma. The OKC Imam gave testimony of growing up in Lebanon as a Muslim refugee attending a Christian school. When a military group slaughtered 1800 people, he was held in the lap of a nun who would always give him sugar candy. When asked why he doesn't hate Christians, he said he had to decide which ones were the Christians-the militia that killed, or the nun who loved. He said he chose the sugar candy, and that we should all choose to make a difference in our own spheres.

By the time we left Wisconsin the snow was gone. We managed to sneak in a lunch with my precious daughter in Chicago on our way back. Now we ponder, what shall we do with this experience? Many of you already have rich inter-faith relationships, and we hope to build on that for further education and community involvement. Let us know what you might like to see come of this, we are all ears. I trust the Spirit who led us to Green Lake will lead us to good work here in Dayton as well.


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