Roy Medley is one Baptist leader who thinks that when some Baptists make disparaging remarks about the Muslim faith then other Baptists have to step forward to build trust with the Islamic community.
“Our commitment to Jesus does not require us to disparage other faiths in testifying to him as Lord and Savior,” Medley, the general secretary of American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., said in an e-mail interview with EthicsDaily.com.
Medley said hostile statements about Muslims issued by some Baptists after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and disparaging comments about the Prophet Muhammad in 2002 “do not forward the Christian witness and run counter to our respect for conscience.”
“But since those remarks have been especially identified with Baptists,” he continued, “it is critical for Baptists to come forward in efforts to build trust and goodwill with Muslims.”
Medley said that he issued a statement countering the first wave of negative Baptist remarks because they “were not representative of Baptists as a whole and were contradictory to our respect for religious freedom and conscience.”
He noted that one of the founders of the Baptist faith was Thomas Helwys, who pled in a declaration to King James of England for religious liberty for all, including Muslims and Jews.
The United States has a number of different Baptist bodies. Medley’s denomination, ABC/USA, and the better-known Southern Baptist Convention were once loosely united under the Triennial Convention, but they split largely over the issue of slavery. Originally named the Northern Baptist Convention, Medley’s group adopted its current name in 1972. ABC/USA is considered a mainline Protestant denomination, while the SBC is identified with conservative evangelicals. A number of SBC leaders have made incendiary remarks about Islam.
Medley’s emergence as a Baptist leader committed to creating better understanding between two of the faiths in the Abrahamic tradition ”Christianity and Islam ”resulted in part from two recent experiences.
One was a visit to Lebanon in 2006, after the war between Israel and the Hezbollah. Baptist leaders there urged him “to improve the relationship between Baptists and Muslims in North America.”
The other experience was in April 2007 on a trip to the Republic of Georgia. The chief imam for Georgia talked about the positive association between Baptists and Muslims, said Medley. “[H]e challenged me to work for greater understanding between Christians and Muslims in the U.S.”
Medley told EthicsDaily.com that “A Common Word,” a document issued by 138 Muslim religious leaders to Christian leaders in October 2007, was “a generous gesture.”
The Muslim open letter centers on love for God and love for neighbor.
“[I]n light of the tumultuous relations between Christians and Muslims, historically as well as currently, it is important to begin with an understanding of the common ground we do share in our commitment to these two commandments,” he said.
A native of Columbus, Ga., Medley said that in dialogue with North American Muslims that he consistently raises the issue of religious liberty, specifically in predominantly Muslim countries where Christians are a minority.
Baptists “cannot ask Muslims to advocate for the right of Christians to live apart from fear and discrimination as they freely exercise their faith if we are not willing to do the same for them,” Medley cautioned.
“We cannot be silent on the matter of the persecution of Christians, and we need to continue to highlight those situations where Christians are experiencing oppression because of their faith in Jesus,” he said.
Baptists need “to press for their [persecuted Christians] basic rights to be respected, while also seeking allies within the Muslim community who will advocate for the same,” said Medley.
ABC’s general secretary noted that world peace hinged on Christians, Muslims and Jews finding ways to live together.
“Those of us who share a commitment to peace will find within each of our own traditions those who would take the teachings of our faiths and interpret them for other ends. It is a problem common to us all. But that ought not to discourage those of us who believe our faiths mandate us to seek peace,” he said.
He said that goodwill Baptists, Muslims and Jews needed “to make common cause ¦in advocating for and being examples of these three faith communities living and working together for the common good.”
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.
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Robert M. Parham (1953 – 2017) was the founder and executive director of Baptist Center for Ethics from 1991 to 2017. He served as executive editor of EthicsDaily.com, BCE’s website, from its launch in 2002 until 2017.