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Friday, January 22, 2010

Trialogue with Jews, Christians and Muslims

Friday to Sunday, Jan 22-24
Dallas, Texas
A trialogue with Christians, Jews and Muslims.

I attended the first meeting at Temple Shalom and I am pleased to see this development in our Metroplex. The Pluralism bug is catching on. Welcome to the new decade of pluralism, inclusiveness and co-existence. My comments follow the article - Mike Ghouse

Keller pastor's multifaith initiative includes 'trialogue' with Muslims, Jews

11:00 PM CST on Thursday, January 21, 2010

By SAM HODGES / The Dallas Morning News

For some evangelical pastors, pushing the envelope means preaching without a tie, or having the congregation sing praise music instead of hymns.

But the Rev. Bob Roberts Jr., pastor of 3,000-member NorthWood Church in Keller, has befriended Vietnamese communists, Afghan Muslims and even liberal Christians in a fast-paced, far-flung ministry that emphasizes peace-making and service as well as evangelism.

One of his sayings: "We serve not to convert but because we are converted. We serve because Christ has changed us and made us servants to people who are lost and hurting."

This weekend, Roberts is stepping out a bit more, but close to home. He has enlisted Rabbi Jeremy Schneider of Dallas' Temple Shalom and Imam Zia Sheikh of the Islamic Center of Irving for a "trialogue" with his congregation and theirs.

Members of NorthWood and the mosque will attend the regular worship service tonight at Temple Shalom. On Saturday afternoon, the Christians and Jews will visit the mosque. Finally, on Sunday morning, the Jews and Muslims will attend NorthWood for worship.

After each gathering, the three clergymen will answer questions about the differences and similarities of their faiths.

"The unusual aspect of this is that there's an evangelical who is the leader and really the animating force," said Eboo Patel, executive director of the Chicago-based Interfaith Youth Core. "It's more often a mainline Protestant who would be the Christian component."

Patel, a Muslim, is not only a friend and fan of Roberts. He wrote the forward to Roberts' forthcoming book, praising the pastor as a bridge-builder who promotes understanding of and respect for other faiths.

That's definitely the mission for this weekend's gatherings, Roberts confirmed. He prefers "multifaith" to "interfaith" as a descriptive term, believing that the latter suggests a watering-down of doctrine.

"The basis of coming together is not to minimize our beliefs but to hold onto our beliefs and make clear our beliefs," he said. "But also it's to say that the best of our beliefs calls us to get along with one another."

Known for innovation

Roberts, 51, grew up in East Texas, the son of a Southern Baptist pastor, and graduated from Baylor University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

As a young pastor, Roberts quickly earned a reputation for innovation, founding NorthWood in 1985 and using its growing size and resources to start other churches. Like a lot of baby boomer pastors, Roberts has steered clear of denominational politics, and he describes NorthWood as loosely affiliated with Baptist groups.

In the mid-1990s, NorthWood began making mission trips to Vietnam, at the suggestion of a church member who was a Vietnam veteran. Since then, the church has sent teams there repeatedly to do medical, educational and orphanage-related work.

Roberts himself has been more than 20 times, while also having the church host Vietnamese government delegations and exchange students.

After 9/11, Roberts decided Christians need to show an example of service in Muslim countries, and began traveling to Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories and other areas, helping churches get a foothold for the kind of work NorthWood was doing in Vietnam.

Roberts believes in "going in the front door" and abiding by whatever restrictions a host country places on evangelism – but sharing Christian faith wherever and whenever allowed.

His travels have given him an education in Middle East politics and enough standing to be included in high-level, peace-seeking meetings in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, as a rare evangelical representative.

Roberts, whose heroes include Mahatma Gandhi and the Methodist missionary E. Stanley Jones, said this weekend's effort grew from his recognition that the Dallas area had become much more multicultural, and that he hadn't reached out enough locally to other faiths.

His inquiries about partners led him to Sheikh and Schneider. They began meeting a few months ago and have become friends.

"He is a great, down-to-earth guy, and someone anyone would love to have over for coffee," Sheikh said of Roberts.

Schneider, a young associate rabbi at Temple Shalom who has earned a national reputation for his leadership in Jewish-Muslim relations, described Roberts as "a colleague and brother who is as inspired and energetic and committed to this work as I am."

'At the forefront'

Roberts said about 250 members of his congregation have signed up to visit the temple and mosque. Support at NorthWood for this and other of Roberts' initiatives is "overwhelming," said church leadership council member Rusty Mayeux.

"Obviously, people have questions, and questions are good because that's where we start to break down walls," he said.

Roberts inevitably gets asked about the New Testament verse in which Jesus says, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

"I believe what the Scripture says," Roberts said. "Here's what I don't know: I don't know every single thing God is going to do. Eternity is in the hands of God."

He added: "If we as evangelicals really believe Jesus is the way, we ought to be at the forefront of building relations." \


Comments (2)
Posted by MikeGhouse less than one minute ago

It is time to plant the seeds for a new paradigm and embark on bold initiatives to do our share of repairing the world. The faith leaders have joined together and embolden our commitment to co-existence and well being of every human being.

The change is coming; the new paradigm is in the making, moving away from exclusive to getting closer to inclusive societies. In our life time collective blame on religions will become a thing of the past and individuals will be held responsible for their acts and not their family, neighborhood, community, nation or their religion. It is a sure way to find justice, as religions are intangibles that cannot be punished or hung and justice never happens and societal balance is seldom achieved.

To cap off this weekend of interfaith activity, we have a beautiful event on Sunday, The Reflections on Holocaust and Genocides. This is an educational program, where 7 speakers will reflect on 7 topics for 7 minutes each along with contributing a few simple things that you and I can do to prevent such tragedies. The topics range from the Holocaust to Genocides, massacres and tragedies. It is a purposeful event to learn, acknowledge and reflect upon the terrible things that we humans have inflicted upon each other.

This is a humanitarian event on Sunday, Jan 24 at Center for Spiritual living on Spring Valley Road in Dallas at 5:00 PM, it is free and all are welcome.

Mike Ghouse

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