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Baptists and Muslims Pledge to Continue Dialogue

Baptist and Muslim participants at the first national Muslim-Baptist dialogue left with a desire to continue efforts to learn more about those of the other faith and find areas of common ground.

Baptist and Muslim participants at the first national Muslim-Baptist dialogue left with a desire to continue efforts to learn more about those of the other faith and find areas of common ground. The event, held Jan. 9-11 at the Islamic Center of Boston and Andover Newton Theological School in Newton Centre, Mass., drew about 80 Baptist and Muslim leaders from across the country.

A draft statement outlining hopes for the future was provided to participants at the end of the weekend, and they will be able to add their signature to it. The statement, called A Declaration of Our Common Will, is an attempt to build upon the weekend and outline goals for future efforts. Written by a group of Baptist and Muslim participants, the statement offered six items that the signatories will pledge to do:

  1. Work to eradicate stereotypes and develop friendships with one another through dialogue that reflects a willingness to listen and a desire to learn;
  2. Affirm the full integrity of one another’s faith, honoring our differences and building upon our common values;
  3. Realize that as we learn about our neighbors’ faith, we enrich our own;
  4. Cooperate together on projects that contribute to justice, peace, and the common good;
  5. Educate our own faith communities about the importance of living together as neighbors;
  6. Commit to pray for one another as we seek other opportunities to strengthen our friendship.

The statement explained that the weekend of conversation and relationship building was an attempt to overcome our shared history that has often included competition, distrust, and fear. It also noted that our respective scriptures require us to live as neighbors. The statement and the list of signatories will be released in the future after participants from the weekend have had a chance to add their names to it.

Several presenters at the event noted historical and contemporary examples of Christians and Muslims working together. The speakers expressed their hope that such incidents could serve as a model for Christians and Muslims learning to live and work together.

Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur professor of African-American studies and sociology at Colby College in Maine, discussed historical issues and examples that she called seeds and connections that we need to cultivate and we need to strengthen.

Muhammad Shafiq, professor and executive director of the Center for Interfaith Studies and Dialogue at Nazareth College in Rochester, N.Y., outlined various examples of Muslims and Christians working together. He expressed his hope that the event would not be something that remains here and we become silent, but it becomes something as a national charter for both of these communities.

He added that for such efforts to continue, it will require really heart-felt people who are committed to dialogue, committed to community-building, committed to the common word, committed to the common good.

Charles Kimball, presidential professor of religious studies and director of religious studies at the University of Oklahoma, also expressed his hope that Baptists and Muslims will find ways to continue to build relationships and participate in interfaith dialogue.

The way forward, I believe, is not blocked, Kimball stated. Through education, dialogue and intentional efforts to cooperate in community we can find more paths to a more hopeful and healthy future in the communities and the world we share.

Many of those who participated in the event also expressed their desire to see more efforts at dialogue, especially at the local level.

Hopeton Scott, pastor of First Baptist Church in Bridgeport, Conn., was among the task force of Muslims and Baptists that helped planned the gathering. He told EthicsDaily.com that the weekend met and exceeded our expectations. He added that he is hopeful that what started over the weekend will continue as more dialogues, interactions and joint community efforts will occur between Baptists and Muslims.

What I’m expecting will happen is we will replicate this kind of gathering in other places, Scott stated. I’m hopeful we can be the impetus for more.

Scott added that the relationships that developed over the weekend will continue to grow and become deeper as we go back to our local communities. He hopes that will lead to local versions of the gathering as local Baptists and Muslims come together to not just talk, but take action together.

John Baker, pastor of First Baptist Church of Columbia, Mo., told EthicsDaily.com that although he has already been involved in interfaith efforts in his community, the weekend has inspired him to do even more.

I’m going back with a greater eagerness to know Muslims in Columbia, Baker said.

Some participants had already made contacts and planned to pursue them in order to continue the dialogue and bring the discussion to people in their own communities.

Bruce Prescott, chair of the committee planning the regional New Baptist Covenant meeting to be held in Norman, Okla. in August, told EthicsDaily.com that he hoped to include a breakout at the event that would include Baptists and Muslims leading a dialogue similar to what had occurred over the weekend.

David Goatley, president of the North American Baptist Fellowship of the Baptist World Alliance, told EthicsDaily.com he had made contact with several Muslim participants and will continue the dialogue. He expressed his hope that others will do so as well.

What I anticipate will emerge are some new opportunities for Baptists and Muslims to connect, and explore places and priorities where there are some common ground, Goatley said. I anticipate that there will be some smaller, personal connections where some Baptists and Muslims will be exploring areas of shared interests and concerns.

Brian Kaylor is a contributing editor to EthicsDaily.com.