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Building Relationships with People of Other Faiths

How do we build relationships with people of other faiths?

The city of Chelmsford, England, in which I live is overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly nominal Christian.

There is, however, a small but growing Muslim community. As a result, we have two mosques – a larger one for Sunnis, and a very small one for Shias.

Four years ago, the Shias wanted to redevelop their mosque. As a result, a protest march was organized by the so-called English Defense League against the redevelopment.

Interestingly, Christians in the town were divided: while city’s church leaders supported the mosque, there was a small group of people in my church who were uneasy about it.

As one church member stated on Facebook, “Saying Muslims have the right to worship is no different from saying sinners have the right to sin. It may be true, but that doesn’t make it right.”

This was the context in which I spoke to my church and made the following points, which others facing similar sentiments in their churches might find helpful.

1. From the very beginning, Baptists have argued for religious freedom – not just for themselves, but for everybody.

In 1612, Thomas Helwys, the first Baptist leader, published “A Short Declaration of the Mistery of Iniquity,” in which he argued for freedom for worship for all – and by all, he meant not just Baptists, but “heretics, Turks, Jews.”

This plea for religious freedom for all was, in fact, the first such plea in English. Down through the centuries, Baptists have continued to argue for religious freedom.

This was why, for instance, a former president of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, Sir Cyril Black, went to court and publicly argued for the right of the Buddhists in Wimbledon to build a temple in his road.

2. If we wish to win for Christ people of other faiths, then we need to understand them.

To understand them means that we must listen to them and not just condemn their beliefs. To use the jargon, we need to enter into dialogue with them.

I find it significant that William Carey, the founder of the Baptist Missionary Society and a pioneer missionary in India, spent a good deal of time helping to translate the Ramayana, which is one of the key Hindu texts.

3. We need to recognize that Muslims, along with Christians and Jews, are fellow “children of Abraham.”

We do have things in common with Muslims – not least our shared belief in one God.

Clearly, there are major differences, not least regarding Jesus. For Muslims, Jesus is simply a prophet, whereas for Christians he is the Son of God.

However, in our approach to secularists in a number of ethical areas, Muslims can be our allies rather than our foes.

4. None of this takes away the fact that Muslims have persecuted Christians and have been guilty of all kinds of atrocities.

However, our record as Christians is not one to be proud of: Here I have in mind not just the Crusades of the past, but also the burning of the Koran by U.S. pastors.

5. In a fractured world, building bridges with our Muslim neighbors is no longer optional.

Around this time, I began to seek to build bridges with one of the local mosques. We met with the leaders of the mosque and sought to engage in dialogue.

Sadly, we did not get very far. Rightly or wrongly, there were other items on our agenda. And then I retired.

However, recently I attended a most unusual interfaith event: a cricket match between the Sunni Mosque and the Anglican Cathedral.

Somewhat amusingly, the Muslims well and truly thrashed the Christians, but they did so in a gentlemanly manner.

During the match, the Muslims served tea and cake – and samosas. They also made up amazing chocolate milkshakes courtesy of Rolo and Snickers. At the end of the match they then provided curries of various kinds; it was a delicious meal.

As I reflected on the occasion, it seemed to me that a game of cricket is an excellent medium for developing interfaith friendships.

Cricket is a leisurely game – and is quite different in character from other sports. Likely those in other nations have games with similar qualities that could serve as occasions to develop interfaith relationships.

During the four hours of the match, I found I was able to “work the crowd” and talk to a wide range of people, both Muslims and Christians.

Although my conversations with the people from the mosque did not go very far, I felt that at least a foundation for friendship was being established.

The one snag was that the match took place at the end of the season, and so we may well have to wait until next summer for the conversation. But at least it was a beginning.

Paul Beasley-Murray retired after 21 years of ministry as the senior minister of Central Baptist Church in Chelmsford in the United Kingdom. He is currently serving as the chairman and general editor of Ministry Today U.K. and as the chairman of the College of Baptist Ministers. He is the author of numerous books and articles, including “Living Out the Call,” a four-volume series on pastoral ministry. His writings can be found at PaulBeasleyMurray.com, where readers can register to receive his weekly blog post. A longer version of this article first appeared on his website and is used with permission.