A delegation of Cooperative Baptist ministers are participating this week in the third national Baptist-Muslim dialogue April 16-19 in Green Lake, Wis. This third national dialogue aims to form partnerships between a Baptist leader and a Muslim leader in a community and their two congregations for an ongoing relationship. Learn more about the dialogue here.
Below is a reflection from Jonathan Davis, pastor of Beale Memorial Baptist Church in Tappahannock, Virginia, who is participating in the national dialogue as part of the CBF delegation. Davis writes about his top 5 takeaways:
1. The space to listen to others from another religion and belief system is exceedingly rare in our culture. I say this as one who pastors in a rural community. If religious leaders do no lead their faith communities in intentional dialogue with differing faith communities, it will never happen.
2. My eyes are opening to the fact that although my community is a “classic American small-town,” we are becoming more diverse. I know for a fact that there are Muslim families living in Essex County, Virginia. My question as a pastor is — how is my church creating space for mutual dialogue and learning alongside this community? One of the only ways we can overcome xenophobia is through personal relationships. If I am to take the Bible’s commands to welcome the “stranger in your midst,” and “love your neighbor as yourself” seriously, and expect my church to take it seriously, I have to personally model it.
3. There is much hate and fear in our churches — even the moderate and progressive ones. Fear is not something that fundamentalists have the market on. One of the Christian pastors who is attending the dialogue was jokingly, or perhaps not, offered an AK-47 to bring to the conference by one of his parishioners. If we assume that the people in our moderate and progressive Baptist churches are free from all malice, hate, and fear, we are kidding ourselves. We have much work to do in ushering in the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.
4. It’s also worth noting that we pastors have, quite often, just as much work to do as any of our parishioners. This dialogue helps me confront my own embedded prejudices and stereotypical ideas. It would not be right to begin leading interfaith dialogue in my own community without working through whatever baggage, both culturally and from my own fundamentalist theological upbringing, I carry with me. I am seeing that this work takes energy and focus, and a sense of call. How is God calling you and your faith community to engage in meaningful dialogue with other faiths?
5. True interfaith dialogue is not focused on converting the other as much as it’s focused on authentic transformative relationship. As one Muslim Imam said yesterday, “Hopefully I live my life in such a way that the people I encounter are attracted to my faith. At the end of the day, conviction of the heart and salvation is up to God.” As a Christian pastor, I appreciate his outlook. Psalm 3:8, Psalm 62:1, Revelation 7:10 and a host of other Jewish and Christian texts remind us that “Salvation belongs to our God.” Perhaps one place to begin with interfaith dialogue (which is desperately needed in our culture, and for the sake of the planet) is that we ourselves are not the dispensers of salvation, and neither are our churches. Salvation belongs to God alone.
Jonathan Davis serves as the pastor of Beale Memorial Baptist Church in Tappahannock, Virginia.