In planning for nearly a year, the Baptist-Muslim conversation held on Saturday, April 20, could not have gone better. It was not lost on anyone in attendance how timely and significant this initiative was.
There was a palpable sense in the room that we were doing holy work, especially as tempers were flaring in other rooms, calling for revenge against the “marathon bombers.” We were seeking the pathways that make for peace.
The planning committee, comprised of local Muslim and Baptist leaders and ably led by Central Baptist Theological Seminary professor Richard P. Olson, Ph.D., constructed an opportunity for Christians and Muslims to find common words as well as common ground in our mutual desire for peace.
Preeminent common words are the love of God and the love of neighbor.
Conversation around two documents – “Finding a Common Word between Us and You,” an invitation from 38 Muslim scholars to thoughtful Christians to consider areas of agreement, and the Baptist World Alliance’s response – proved fruitful.
Even more fruitful was the recognition of common humanity as we shared our lives and the central role of our respective faiths.
Christians had the opportunity to observe one of the five times of daily prayer, and Muslims had the opportunity to enjoy good Baptist table fellowship – not that we have the corner on that!
Over and over, participants voiced growing respect for the serious faith of the “other.” Toward the end of the afternoon, one Muslim woman exclaimed: “I am so happy that you do not think we worship a violent God! It seems that we worship the same God!” Indeed.
Too often we demonize a whole tradition because of the actions of a few. A growing suspicion of the Muslim neighbor has become a part of the national discourse, and it will take great intentionality for this to abate.
Joint humanitarian work and respectful speech can foster much greater understanding.
With Muslims and Christians comprising more than 55 percent of the world’s population, the pursuit of interfaith dialogue matters more than ever before.
Central Baptist Theological Seminary believes in the promise of the kind of event we sponsored (with the encouragement of ABC-USA) and seeks to foster respect for the lived religion of others.
God has granted us the gift of common ground that we may plow together – for the love of God and the love of neighbor. It matters that we find ways to claim one another in our day.
Molly T. Marshall is the retired president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (CBTS) in Shawnee, Kansas.