15 years later

 

Colin Kaepernick has inspired a lot of people to stand up for the American flag. All he did was remain seated during the National Anthem of a preseason football game. He explained his rationale:

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

If Kaepernick’s intention was to create a backlash of public opinion, then his efforts have been a resounding success. There may be a question related to his method, but we definitely need to work harder at finding common ground among people who are different from us. While his concerns deal with racial equality, the upcoming anniversary of 9/11 causes us to stop and take stock in how our nation has moved forward (but apparently not as much, together) over the last 15 years.

Our church recently completed the “Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims” documentary provided by EthicsDaily.com. The subtitle for this video is “Love God, Love Neighbor” which summarizes the two great commandments that Jesus left for his followers. It should also be an area of agreement between people who have obvious religious differences.

This was not the first time I shared this resource with our people. We watched it six years ago, and found it to be useful in listening to Muslims and Baptists dialogue on their beliefs. It was important to note that friendships despite religious differences were possible. People could unite to improve their communities, without compromising their religious views.

I thought sufficient time had elapsed to bring the material. Many of the same persons as well as new members have been present to watch it. I also thought it important to revisit the theme of finding common ground among Muslims and Baptists. As tensions continue to exist between adherents of these global faiths, it’s good to be reminded that sincere followers should not be defined by extremist factions.

I’ve been a pastor for 20 years and with my current congregation for half of that time. I am grateful for our Baptist heritage, values, and closeness to several college campuses. There’s an appreciation for differences of opinion and a broader understanding of what the church’s role should be in our world beyond what happens on Sunday morning. This is a wonderful reality, one that I do not take for granted.

In our church, when I ask for feedback, I usually get it. We have a cross section of ages, social, economic, and education backgrounds. Still, I was surprised by the vocal, vehement reaction to “Baptists & Muslims” by one of our older, retired Baptist pastors. He was extremely antagonistic to the video, fearful that universalism was somehow creeping into our church despite the fact that there was no evidence of this in the documentary. Fortunately, he held the minority viewpoint but his outburst truncated a good discussion.

During that period of awkward silence, I told our people that we don’t have to be afraid of learning about new things. Learning new things doesn’t mean we have to agree with them. We need to mindful of others who don’t believe as we do, and we should our best to build relational bridges in order to promote peace and become good neighbors. Many people from other religious backgrounds are concerned about the same things we are: good schools, good jobs, safe neighborhoods, and taking care of their families.

I wanted us to review the documentary in advance of the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attack on our country. I wanted us to realize that not every Muslim is like those portrayed in the media or hates America. We should not stereotype an entire people based on those who do violent things in the name of their religion. Besides, there are many “Christians” who do hateful things and then use the Bible to substantiate their behavior. When this happens, we need to speak out against these actions so that the extremist voices are not the only ones being heard. People of good will need to come forward and be united for the cause of peace.

On this September 11 anniversary, I will be remembering those who lost their lives in that horrific attack. I will be mindful of the families who were forever changed by the death of their loved ones.

I also hope to realize that not all Muslims are terrorists who are out to kill us, and that Christians can be patriotic without having hate toward those who don’t share our belief in Jesus Christ. We need the presence of mind to distinguish the extremist voices and avoid stereotyping entire religions because of them. This is a time for courage and an active faith that will “love your neighbor as yourself.” We can listen to people and work toward common goals and goodness without having to agree theologically or politically.

This is a time for us to come together as one nation, regardless of and because of our rich diversity. May God help us as pastors and congregations to be catalysts of peace and good will in our communities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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