Picking up on yesterday’s theme of clarity, during my sabbatical I had the opportunity to affirm for myself three areas which I feel particularly called to address in my ministry. The first area was tending to the relationship between myself (and the churches I serve) with the denomination to which we are attached: the United Church of Christ. The second area involves ministry to those whose lives are touched by mental illnesses. The third area involves relationships between myself (and the communities I serve) with those who come from other faith traditions as well as those who claim no faith tradition. Those are the three aspects of my ministry to which I feel a special connection.
This morning I was pleased to run across an article titled “Southern Baptist Seminary Clears President After Dispute Over Muslim Student” that spoke to my passion for interfaith relations. Before I read the article, I thought I knew in which direction the story would head. Since Southern Baptists are a group known for their strong evangelistic fervor, I assumed the story would be about the efforts of a seminary president to exclude a Muslim student from their seminary. It turns out I had things backward. Paige Patterson, the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, got in trouble for accepting a Muslim student into one of the school’s Ph.D. programs. The Muslim student has since opted out of the seminary due to the controversy the story generated. It seemed significant to me, however, that the leadership of the seminary was willing to defend the student’s ability to attend the seminary.
The article also mentioned another interfaith experience as well. The seminary Patterson serves also runs a program in a maximum security unit in a prison in Texas. In order to hold meetings, the school was required to let interested Muslim and atheist inmates participate as well.
Once again, Patterson was forced to defend the program since – on the surface – it seemed inconsistent with the stated aims of the Baptist seminary to bring others to a faith in Jesus Christ. Patterson explained that in order to reach ANY inmates the policies of the prison meant that they had to be open to interactions with ALL inmates.
I found these two steps very encouraging on an important front.
You see while I sense that representatives with the seminary might view their interactions with non-Christians from one angle (i.e. they might think of these interactions SOLELY as an opportunity to convert non-Christians), I see another possibility. Interactions with students and inmates from other faith traditions MIGHT become more enlightened and/or sensitive to those from other traditions. Let me emphasize the word MIGHT. I believe that possibility exists because time after time I have seen people’s lives and attitudes change when they encounter those whom they previously considered “the other”. This – at least for me – is a sign of hope!
As you negotiate your day, I would encourage you to look for other signs of hope that show the world moving in more hopeful directions.
See you next time!