Sugar and spice, thunder and lightning, picnics and ants, ocean and waves, washers and dryers, children and laughter, Baptists and Muslims.
If you were playing a categories game where you named pairs of items that naturally fit together, you most likely would not think of “Baptists and Muslims.”
Yet, at the Green Lake Conference Center in Wisconsin, April 16-19, Baptists and Muslims indeed did fit together naturally. Several factors helped us to connect so comfortably and appropriately.
1. We all realized that we represent the two largest religious communities in the world, which comprise almost half of the earth’s population. It is crucial that we learn to live together peacefully.
2. We recognized that we all worship the same God, yes – understood differently, nevertheless as children of the same God we are spiritual siblings, which motivates our mutual respect and grounds our relationship.
3. We acknowledged that our separate Scriptures each admonish love of the Divine; therefore, we are united by a desire as well as a determination to worship and obey God.
4. We admitted that our Scriptures each command that we love our neighbors, so we wanted our time together to be marked by acts of compassion, generosity of spirit, courtesy, kindness and grace.
5. We agreed that our individual traditions are historically rooted in calls for religious liberty, dating back to the Muslim Charter of Medina and its protection of “People of the Book” and to England and the early American colonies where Baptists championed freedom of religion for all.
6. We understood that we had come to Green Lake with purpose and hope. We all longed for a respite from the anger and accusations, the stereotypical thinking and hate speech, the racial profiling and religion-bashing that characterize much of the daily news and contemporary social media.
We wanted a space where civility and honesty were practiced, where people who come from diverse backgrounds could express their views and share their experiences without fear, hesitation or embarrassment.
We needed to know that brotherhood and sisterhood are possible across the boundary lines and outside of the boxes that are so often constructed to close us in and rob us of the beauty and richness of difference.
So, we came – minds open, hearts receptive, emotions raw, hands extended in camaraderie. And we proved this miracle of interfaith relations between Baptist and Muslim leaders was achievable.
We demonstrated the transformative power of friendship. We listened to one another, ate meals, laughed and played games, expressed solidarity, begged forgiveness, held hands and prayed, exchanged addresses and phone numbers, took photographs, promised to stay in touch and pledged we would never forget each other.
What we began at Green Lake will not end there. We have returned to our homes, all across the United States and Canada, carrying a vision of the possible.
We will meet again. We will connect with Baptists or Muslims in the places where we work and serve. We will say to anyone who asks, “Baptists and Muslims fit together in our shared desire for a better world.”
We will convene again, perhaps in 2020, or maybe sooner.
Meanwhile, it is our hope that hundreds more Baptists and Muslims will discover, as we surely did, that the God we worship, the Most Merciful, the God of love, the God who commands us to love our neighbors, will not disappoint us when, despite our differences, we dedicate ourselves to the holy task of bringing our worlds together.
Rob Sellers is emeritus professor of theology and missions at Logsdon Seminary and chair of the Parliament of the World’s Religions.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series reflecting on the third Baptist-Muslim dialogue held April 16-19 in Green Lake, Wisconsin. Photos from the event are available here. A series of video interviews from the dialogue will be published here.
The previous articles in the series are:
What Happens When Baptists, Muslims Work Together by Richard P. Olson
Baptist-Muslim Dialogue Opened My Eyes to Interfaith Engagement by Trisha Miller Manarin