A few yeas ago, First United participated in an initiative called Faith Shared: Uniting in Prayer and Understanding. We joined Christians churches across the country in hosting readings from the Qur’an as an act of solidarity with the Muslim community. The idea was to send a message both here at home and to the Arab and Muslim world about our respect for Islam. I was astonished by the flurry of negative emails and comments on our church’s web site. Several quoted the Bible to defend their messages. For example:
“Your (sic) planning to send “a message both here at home and to the Arab and Muslim world about our respect for Islam” with a time to read the Quran during worship this Sunday. Second Corinthians 6:14-18 says we’re forbidden to do that kind of thing. It’s one thing to be friendly with someone in Islam, but it’s a whole other thing in a Christian community to be reading something that is antithetical to Christianity and is hostile to Jesus Christ himself. You should be ashamed of yourself and resign never to preach in a Lutheran or Christian church again.”
Several accused us of becoming “Chrislam,” a hybrid of Christianity and Islam. That was a new one to me! I’ve since found many references to this fear-mongering tactic. One web site asks:”Is Your Church Secretly Indoctrinating You to Accept Chrislam?”
My answer to that is:
1) We’re not indoctrinating anyone to accept anything. We trust that you will use your brain to explore the teachings of any tradition. We’ll also encourage respectful questions, and even disagreements.
2) We are a Christian church that seeks to enter into respectful dialogue with people of other religions and those with no religion. If that makes us Chrislam, so be it. But we’re also Chruddist, Chrindu and Chraosit. Ouch, that makes my head hurt! But then so does the ignorance of anti-Muslim ranting.
3) Get ready; we’re doing it again. This week is the start of “Pluralism Summer III” at First United. Our first guest is from the Sufi tradition, and so, along with our usual Hebrew and Christian scriptures, we will have a reading from her sacred text, the Qur’an.
While I don’t enjoy criticism, I’m also honored to be in the company of other spiritual leaders. Even Pope Francis is not immune. When he made the statement last year that “Islam is a religion of peace, one which is compatible with respect for human rights and peaceful coexistence,” he became the target of the Internet trolls. in January when he included Muslim prayers in a service at the Vatican, he was declared the antiChrist.
I agree with the statement he made urging Christians and Muslims to get rid of stereotypes in order to establish better interfaith relations. He said that most effective antidote to violence among us is learning about each other and then accepting differences. Inter-religious dialogue can make progress only by careful listening – something many have yet to learn.
Hopefully, our small effort at promoting inter-religious dialogue will have an effect on our corner of the world. I anticipate another round of criticism. But mostly I trust that we are part of the movement of the world into peaceful coexistence.
May it be so.