Rev. Doug Avilesbernal, Executive Minister for the Evergreen Region, remarked, “Jesus said that it is easy to love one’s family and friends. This week I found a community to help me love beyond easy. Unnecessary pain comes from prejudice being made truth by separation. This week I lived how truth clears prejudice through community. Prejudice is unavoidable. This week I learned what happens when we challenge it within and without.”
The target group for the third dialogue was Baptist and Muslim religious leaders fifty years of age and younger who, together with their congregations, had willingness to pair with others to build long-term relationships, foster mutual understanding and participate in a joint project to enhance the welfare of their community. The goal of the dialogue was to partner a Baptist congregational leader and a Muslim religious leader in a community for an ongoing relationship. In addition to leaders of local congregations, participants also included chaplains at colleges and universities where they lead groups which would sustain ongoing dialogue with one another.
The conference extended participants the opportunity to build relationships with one another; examine social and political barriers to interfaith work; explore the underpinnings of religious liberty in each tradition; and create a provisional plan to apply the learnings upon returning home.
Several of the participants expressed that a highlight of the conference involved learning about how Imam Imad Enchassi and Baptist minister Mitch Randall have supported one another for several years in Oklahoma City bearing the burdens of discrimination, death threats, and communal abuse.
Susan Sparks, pastor of the Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City, and preacher for one of the worship sessions said, “”The Baptist-Muslim dialogue offered a tiny glimpse of what the world could be–a place of mutual respect, a gathering full of curiosity and learning, a celebration of our shared humanity. I pray that the dialogue continues, for Baptists and Muslims, and for all faith traditions, so that one day soon this model of friendship becomes a global reality and not just a fleeting glimmer of possibility.”
Rev. Dr. Kathy Pickett, pastor of Prairie Baptist Church in Kansas City added, “The success of the gathering was made evident to me in the voices offering thanksgiving for all we discovered and learned. In addition, meaning for me was discovered in the rise of positive energy, healthy questions asked, and shared laughter and respect, as new friendships developed around the table of a common meal. All, a wonderful example of God’s uniting, neighborly love.”
In addition to American Baptist Churches USA, sponsoring bodies included:
- Cooperative Baptist Fellowship
- Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Mission Society
- Islamic Relief, U.S.
- Islamic Society of North America
- Progressive National Baptist Convention
- National Baptist Convention of America, International
- Alliance of Baptists
- Canadian Baptist Ministries
The conference was planned in large part by Chair Roy Medley, General Secretary Emeritus of American Baptist Churches USA, Colin Christopher, Director of ISNA’s Office for Interfaith and Community Alliances in Washington, D.C., and Robert Sellers, Chair of the Board of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Other members of the Steering Committee included Eftakhar Alam, Azhar Azeez, Raimundo Barreto, Drew Herring, Justin Joplin, Cory Jones, Robin Kay Monk Self, Kyle Tubbs, and Jeff Woods.
Daniel Schweissing, a faculty member at the Community College of Aurora, commented, “Having been involved in campus interfaith work for nearly a decade, this conference has been a great opportunity to grow in my understanding of Islam and more deeply ground my work in the context of my Baptist faith. I am excited about using what I’ve learned to more effectively build bridges with my Muslim students and the broader communities which they belong to.”
Dr. Paul Roby, a physician and member of First Baptist Church of Seattle, summarized, “The event exceeded my expectations in a number of ways. The Islamic scholars and agency people were amazing. The breadth of their experience, quality of their scholarship, and clarity of their communication were world class. Our Baptist brothers and sisters were rich in diversity on so many scales. Instead of the “Islam 101” I had slightly feared, we got seminars that addressed us at all our different levels of interfaith experience. I saw compassion, wisdom, and great authenticity in the pastors and Muslim leaders, both parish and academic. The result was a very instructive dialogue that will improve my congregation’s ministry with our Muslim neighbors.”
American Baptist Churches USA is one of the most diverse Christian denominations today, with approximately 5,000 congregations comprised of 1.3 million members, across the United States and Puerto Rico, all engaged in God’s mission around the world.