Home MB HeraldColumns Loving with ears wide open

Loving with ears wide open

0 comment

When a media frenzy descended on a Florida pastor planning to burn the Qur’an, my reaction was to disavow the man. “That’s not what a Christian looks like,” I thought. “That man’s actions betray the very name he claims!” In that experience, I tasted ever-so-briefly what it might be like to be a Muslim in North America, cringing at sensational news stories about one after another person claiming devotion to a nearly unrecognizable Islam.

In North America, Christians may perceive themselves as misunderstood or misrepresented by news reports and TV characters, but, in general, society is familiar enough with the “type” to recognize that pastor didn’t represent an “average Christian.” But do North Americans – Christian or otherwise – know enough about Islam to distinguish the behaviour and beliefs of “an average Muslim” from one toying with extremes?

Does it matter? Oughtn’t our first priority be evangelism? If we believe the great commandment and its important addendum – “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.… Love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22:37–39) – respecting and learning about other religions matters quite a bit.

Just as we are

In his redeeming work for us, Jesus shows us that love receives a person as-is: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Love doesn’t leave sin unchallenged, but neither does it start with condemnation (John 8:1–11). Love for neighbour, then, demands we not only share our beliefs – “that the saving grace of God in Jesus is the only means of reconciling humanity with God” (Confession of Faith, Article 17) – but also listen with compassion and humility as she shares hers.

Many perceive interfaith dialogue to be about finding common ground. Indeed, where there is hatred, fear, and mistrust, common ground must be established before our hearts are prepared to pour out Christ’s love. But, as former MB Herald editor and prominent scholar on Islam Gordon Nickel writes, “The first act of respect for the partner is to acknowledge differences.” Let’s not be afraid to say our belief is different, but allow our neighbour to define what he believes as well. It can be quite instructive to hear what others believe in order to clarify what we do not.

Once we’ve listened – perhaps, learned – by all means, let us share the treasure we have. Together with the apostle Peter, we acknowledge that “salvation is found in no one else” (Acts 4:12) for Jesus has “the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). We follow this Jesus, but that doesn’t elevate our wisdom to that of God. “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD,” in Isaiah 55:8. “‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’” We still have much to learn, and if we are open, may find wisdom in surprising places.

A different face on dialogue

The term interfaith dialogue is fraught with fears of theological drift and compromise. But what if it looks like smiling at the woman wearing a hijab standing in line at the grocery store, and asking about her children? What if it means listening openly as the Sikh man driving your taxi explains why he wears a kirpan? What if it means initiating a conversation with a co-worker about what she believes?

On the flip side of the Qur’an burning is a Tennessee pastor who opened his church’s gathering space to a local Islamic congregation. A collaborative relationship sprung up between the two faith congregations after Heartsong Church pastor Steve Stone erected a sign on church property to welcome the Memphis Islamic Center to the neighbourhood. They’ve eaten meals together, volunteered at a homeless shelter together, and when the Islamic Center’s gathering space was unavailable for prayer during Ramadan, Heartsong offered their sanctuary.

This remarkable friendship – in an age when Christian churches come under attack in majority-Muslim Egypt and Iraq, and vandals oppose mosque construction in majority-Christian U.S.A. – made news across the U.S., and halfway around the world in Pakistan. Stone reports that Muslim leaders in a Pakistani village, so inspired by the CNN segment, determined to take care of the little church in their village for the rest of their lives because “God spoke to us through this man [Stone].” In Cordova, Tenn., however, 20 members left the congregation in protest. Hospitality had crossed a line.

Within our own denomination, River East MB Church, Winnipeg, is working shoulder-to-shoulder with the neighbouring Sikh congregation to beautify a nearby public greenway. (See “Interfaith relationships take root on greenway,” September.) Inspired by a goal of pursuing reconciliation and peace between the two religions through education, REMB is exploring future opportunities to learn about each other’s faith, including a Christian education-hour exchange. How far can partnership extend into matters of the sacred?

As people entrusted with both the greatest commandment and the great commission (Matthew 18:19–20), let us live creatively in love as we bear witness to Jesus, the one who “reconcile[d] us to God through the cross” (Ephesians 2:16).

Karla Braun, associate editor

You may also like

Leave a Comment