Baptists and Muslims:It began in January 2009 with a three-day meeting in Boston between 40 Baptist leaders and 40 Muslim leaders. Papers were presented. Prayers were said. Meals were shared. Business cards were exchanged. Promises for follow-up steps were made.
Baptist-Muslim engagement may be the most unanticipated and underreported religion story of 2009 with the far-reaching potential to advance the common good. Time will soon determine whether it is a fool's errand or a fullness-of-time movement.
Also in January, the Baptist World Alliance, the largest global Baptist body, released its official response to the Islamic letter known as "A Common Word Between Us and You."
Two months later, the BWA dedicated a baptismal center on the Jordan River where John the Baptist is thought to have baptized Jesus. The land was a gift from the Jordanian government, facilitated by Prince Ghazi Bin Muhammad, who is the chief architect of the "Common Word" initiative.
On the July 4th weekend in Washington, D.C., well-known Baptist preacher Rick Warren spoke at the annual meeting of the Islamic Society of North America.
Off the public radar was another development. The Baptist Center for Ethics, better known for its Web site, EthicsDaily.com, was invited to produce an hour-long documentary that will begin airing on ABC-TV stations in January 2010. The documentary is titled "Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims."
At the heart of the documentary is the recognition that Baptists and Muslims have different sacred books but a common word--love the neighbor. The documentary tells five stories about Muslims and Baptists who pursue neighbor love through interfaith dialogue and interfaith action, stories that will surprise viewers.
These stories run counter to the dominant attitude among Baptist clergy toward Muslims. Too many Baptist preachers in America demonize the Prophet Muhammad and smear Muslims as terrorists, fearing Islam as a dangerous religion. Other fearful clerics avoid hate talk. Instead, they talk about the need to win Muslims to Jesus as the only way to relate to them.
We take another approach. We believe the Bible calls us to love our neighbors, not as a means of conversion, but because it's the right thing to do. And the right thing for goodwill Baptists to do is to speak up for Muslims in our culture of anger and to reach out with a hand of partnership.
Our documentary is about replacing the negative narratives with positive ones. We hope it will bring Baptists and Muslims together on the local level for conversations and community-building. If Muslims and Baptists are peacemakers together in the United States, then they will show the rest of the world a better way forward.
By Robert Parham December 26, 2009; 6:20 PM ET