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Having served Memphis for more than 170 years, the First Baptist Church is breaking new cultural ground with its sponsorship of a citywide screening of a documentary about how U.S. Baptists and Muslims are engaged in interfaith dialogue and action.

Some cities are locked in heated controversies over the building of mosques, and some churches have staked out adversarial positions against Islam. First Baptist Church’s stated purpose for the event, however, is to break through the fear and find common ground.

“Often it is the fear of the other that prevents dialogue toward greater understanding of one another,” reads the church’s promotional flier. “One way through this wall of fear and misunderstanding is to find common ground, asking not how we are different but how we are alike.”

The community screening of “Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims” will occur Sunday, Sept. 26, beginning at 2 p.m., in the church’s fellowship hall. Admission is free and all are welcome. A discussion will follow the viewing of the one-hour documentary.

Panelists will include Rashad Sharif, imam of Masjid Al-Muminun; Mohamad Al-Qadi, imam of Masjid An Noor (Mosque of Light); Nabil Bayakly, head of Muslims of Memphis and a professor of biology at the University of Memphis; David Breckenridge, pastor, First Baptist Church of Memphis; and Elizabeth Richards, a Baptist businesswoman who has lived in the Middle East for 14 years.

Linda Marks, interfaith coordinator for the Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association, will moderate the panel.

First Baptist Church is providing an interpreter for the deaf and hard of hearing for the screening and panel response.

Carol Richardson, screening host and documentary interviewee, told EthicsDaily.com that the planners hope “to build bridges of greater understanding between these two Abrahamic faith traditions and find ways that both faith traditions can implement the common word between us, love God and love neighbor, by working together for the common good in our community.”

Richardson is the church’s associate pastor and on the board of directors of the Baptist Center for Ethics.

The documentary aired in January and February 2010 on more than 130 ABC-TV stations. It is being used as an education resource in churches and other organizational meetings.

Baptist pastor and blogger Danny Chisholm noted last week that his church, University Heights Baptist Church in Springfield, Mo., was using the documentary during the congregation’s Wednesday evening programming.

Chisholm wrote that he had the idea in mind “several months ago but had no idea then that the subject would be so timely.” He also commended church members for their thoughtful and honest discussion.

In a September statement addressing Islamophobia, the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America encouraged its members to host screenings and discussions of the documentary.

A segment of “Different Books, Common Word” will be screened in a breakout session at the annual meeting of the Baptist General Association of Virginia, meeting at the Hampton Roads Convention Center on Nov. 9-10. Following the screening will be a discussion about how Baptists can offer a positive word in a multicultural world marred by so much conflict.

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