Movie actor Denzel Washington referred positively on Thursday to “Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims” on “106 and Park,” a show on Black Entertainment Television.
The Oscar-winning actor called the hour-long documentary “an interesting show.”
Indeed, the Lord works in mysterious ways–ways that transcend our best analysis, our common sense, our expectations.
What does such a theological claim have to do with Denzel Washington’s reference to the EthicsDaily.com documentary?
I have been mumbling for several weeks about how a few ABC-TV stations have buried our documentary in the dead zone between 12 midnight and 5:00 a.m., a time when nobody watches television. One such station is KABC-TV, the Los Angeles station, which aired the program on Jan. 9 at 2:00 a.m.
When I saw the announced time for the KABC-TV airing and some other stations with similar times, I thought what a waste. I assumed that nobody watches television at such hours. I lamented that the viewing audience in those cities would miss seeing our documentary about how people of good will in two different faiths were talking and working with one another.
I was wrong. At least one “nobody” saw the documentary and thought highly enough about it to reference it on a national TV program.
That “nobody” was Denzel Washington, who apparently watches television late at night.
In an interview on BET’s “106 and Park,” mostly about his new movie, “The Book of Eli,” Washington said, “You look at what’s going on in the world. I mean … terrorism is basically about a difference in religious philosophies.”
Then, he said, “I saw an interesting show on television the other night,” which he noted was on early in the morning “when nobody could see it.”
“[I]t was about how Muslims and Christians … how they are getting together. They had very conservative Baptists that went to Muslim countries and Muslims that were getting together with Christians,” he shared. “And they were like, ‘Okay, a human being like me. We may have different religious philosophies, but we both believe in the same God.’”
Lamenting the hour of the showing, Washington concluded, “You know how that goes.”
What surprised me about Washington’s comment is that he watched the documentary and found it compelling enough to remember and to reference it.
Unbeknownst to me, Washington is a practicing Christian.
According to a Christianity Today article, the 55-year-old actor is “the son of a Pentecostal preacher from Mount Vernon, New York,” who “has been an active member of West Angeles Church of God in Christ for nearly 30 years, reads his Bible every morning, and always chooses roles that he can ‘bend’ in the direction of a positive message or a reflection of his deep personal faith.”
Washington reportedly told journalists last week, “I believe that Jesus is the Son of God.”
He shared that when he was growing up his family prayed “about everything, everyday.”
“And we always ended with ‘Amen. God is love.’ I thought ‘God is love’ was one word. It took me a long time to learn what that meant. I don’t care what book you read or what you believe—if you don’t have love, if you don’t love your fellow man, then you don’t have anything,” he said.
Times Live reported that Washington said, “[T]he fundamental message is in the Bible, which I’ve read three times from front to back, along with some of the Koran and the Torah. If you don’t practice love, you’re missing the point. I believe in love thy neighbor.”
These media reports help explain why Washington would find our documentary “an interesting show.” He’s a practicing Christian who understands the centrality of the Great Commandment to love neighbor.
That is the core message of our documentary–that is the common word in both Christianity and Islam–the imperative of neighbor love. We have different sacred texts, disagree about salvation, diverge over daily faith practices and part company over worship. We are, after all, different faiths.
We are, nonetheless, required to seek the welfare of our neighbor, to live rightly in community, to do justice for one another, to make peace in the world.
If you haven’t seen “Different Books, Common Word,” you need to. But don’t just take my recommendation. See if you agree with the two-time Academy Award winner about the documentary.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.