Standing on the sidewalk outside the courthouse in Columbia, Tenn., on a windy morning, a deputy sheriff asked with a smile, “Is there a relationship?”
I had asked him directions to a Baptist church as he eyed Cliff Vaughn, EthicsDaily.com’s managing editor and media producer, who was getting video footage of the courthouse. I told him that we were in Columbia to interview the pastor of Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church as well as the president of the Islamic Center, which had been firebombed a year earlier. I said that we were working on a documentary about the relationship between Baptists and Muslims.
That’s when Maury County Deputy Sheriff Mike Diaz asked his question, suggesting that he didn’t know that Baptists and Muslims had a relationship in a rural town almost an hour south of Nashville.
Diaz’s question could apply nationally. Do Baptists and Muslims in the United States have a relationship?
Of course, most folk know about the negative relationship between these two Abrahamic faiths. Jerry Falwell, Jerry Vines, Chuck Colson and a host of fundamentalist preachers have spat well-known hate statements.
EthicsDaily.com readers know about the positive relationship that some goodwill Baptists are fostering with Muslim leaders.
Under the leadership of Roy Medley, general secretary of American Baptist Churches-USA, some 40 Baptist scholars and leaders met with their Muslim counterparts for a three-day meeting in January.
The Baptist World Alliance responded favorably in February with a letter to the Islamic religious leaders who issued “A Common Word Between Us and You,” which was released in October 2007 to global Christian leaders. That letter argued that Christians and Muslims shared a common word of love for God and love for neighbor.
The truth is Baptists and Muslims do have a complicated, albeit thin, relationship. It includes verbal hostility, sputtering acts of goodwill and a lot of unoccupied space with little connectivity.
The Columbia story is one of both doing the right thing and having modest ongoing connectivity.
Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church spoke out against the firebombing of the Islamic Center and took up a love offering to help out the small Muslim community. The pastor of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church also voiced his concern and attended the center’s open house for its new place of worship. A pastor of a Southern Baptist church reached out to the Muslims, although that report is unconfirmed.
The Columbia story surely constituted a relationship.
Nonetheless, the popular perception is that there is no constructive relationship between Baptists and Muslims in the United States.
Why is that? Why is there so little recognized relationship between goodwill Baptists and Muslims?
Could it be that the popular perception approximates the real situation? Baptists and Muslims really aren’t interfacing in meaningful ways.
Or perhaps that perception is advanced in religious circles by some Baptist leaders who speak in private about supporting dialogue but never speak up in public, in their own communities. That is a vexing pattern among moderate Southern Baptists, who thump their moral chest behind the veil of off-the-record rules.
Maybe the popular perception exists because the stories of positive interaction are not being widely reported.
We would like to hear from goodwill people of faith about stories or examples of constructive relationships between Baptists and Muslims in the United States.
If you know of a story, please e-mail me with information. Let’s answer the question about whether there is a substantive and constructive relationship between Baptists and Muslims.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.