Christian Clergy, Professors Initiate Dialog with Cousins in Faith: Muslims


Ray Waddle, a former religion editor for The Tennessean, discusses themes in a new documentary produced by a Christian group in Nashville, TN:

Baptists and Muslims talking together, facing problems together, is the theme of a new documentary airing on ABC-TV and other stations through February 21. Different Books, Common Word, produced by in Nashville, challenges hostility toward Islam in American society and sanctuaries.

Spoiler alert: The hour-long documentary reveals Muslims as human beings. These American Muslims value friendships with non-Muslims. They come to the aid of non-Muslims in crisis. They admire America 's pluralism. They have a sense of humor. And Baptists reciprocate.

If such revelations sound jarring, it's a measure of how lazy and underachieving inter-religious relations are today.

"We hope the documentary provides positive narratives for relationships between Baptists and Muslims, narratives that begin to challenge the negative narratives that dominate American culture," says Robert Parham, who heads the Baptist Center for Ethics, which operates has previously produced videos aiming to reconcile spiritual and political conflict. This is the first to reach national TV.

The program underscores how rare it is to see goodwill interfaith relationships get publicity.

Profiled are five Muslim-Baptist friendships across the country, including Columbia, Tenn., where a mosque was burned in 2008 by white supremacists. In each case, mutual wariness eventually yielded to a more honest commitment to caring for the neighbor, a command both religions hold in common. In the documentary, we hear Baptists talk about misplaced fears of their Muslim neighbors and how they received emergency help from local Muslims when other civic leaders hesitated. We hear Muslims praise Baptists for their commitment to pluralism as something Muslims should learn from.

The documentary focuses on face-to-face human encounters. Left out are many of the seething forces driving the global conflict — the Mideast stalemate, the war against two Muslim countries, the economy of militarism, the delusional anti-Semitism, the sick gullibility that leads lonely young men to terrorism.

But the fact is many American Christians regarded Islam as an enemy faith long before 9/11. It suits the ideological purposes of many a preacher to unify flocks through sermons that reinforce prejudice and boast heavenly superiority.

The believers featured in Different Books, Common Word reach for something more courageous, a call to healing and patience. “If we can't be friends in Oklahoma ,” one minister says, “how can we be friends in the Middle East ?"

After the documentary has its TV run, vicious extremism will still exist. The world jostles between hope and hopelessness. But no one religion has the monopoly on terror. Timothy McVeigh was no Muslim.

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