In recent days we’ve learned with pride how local UCC and Disciples congregations are speaking up and acting out against the waves of religious bigotry against Muslims.
In recent days we’ve learned with pride how local UCC and Disciples congregations are speaking up and acting out against the waves of religious bigotry against Muslims. From holding Qur’an readings to sharing meals with Muslim groups, local church members are demonstrating that their faith as well as their patriotism demand “strong intercession” for those groups who are under attack simply because of their religious identity.
The total of the world’s Muslim population is second only to that of Christians (and many Muslims would claim the reverse). Then when you realize that Islamic traditions stretch back 1400 years, and when you realize that Muslim groups are as diverse as the many Christian groups, so that there are innumerable ways Muslims live out their faith, it becomes too difficult to label people who follow different theologies or practices as all good or all bad. We human beings are a complex mixture. The world is inescapably plural. That’s the way God created us.
It’s not only in the United States that Christians struggle to live faithfully in a religiously plural world. Your church, through its UCC-Disciples Global Ministries program, works abroad in several countries with Muslim cultures, such as India (where almost 140 million Muslims are a minority in a largely Hindu society), Turkey, Palestine, and Indonesia (the country with the largest Muslim population worldwide). What is your denomination doing in those countries vis-a-vis Islam and Muslims? In most cases the UCC and Disciples interact with local Christian churches and organizations, sharing in Christian life with them and engaging in ministries with both Christians and non-Christians. We call these local churches and organizations in other countries our “partners.” We also partner with interfaith organizations, promoting dialogue and cooperation on issues of common concern.
But there is a unique exception that three of us embody in the country of Turkey, on your behalf. Almost all of our colleagues are Muslim Turks, and we share life together in the running of some excellent schools. In Turkey and in general, it is not your church’s mission to convert Muslims to become Christians. These Turkish schools were started by our predecessors in mission. Our colleagues and we are both committed in our shared life to ideals of honesty, service, dedication, and loyalty. We rejoice together when we see these ideals realized, if only partly, and we hang our heads together when we fail to attain them. This work of your church in Turkey is possible because it is based on an important principle of Turkish secularism: that all Turkish citizens are to be educated as one, without regard to their religious background. Unfortunately when religious bigotry appears in Turkey, as it does in the US, it doesn’t like to see the example our schools set.
The United States is blessed to enjoy freedom of religion — not perfectly, but better than some other places. This means that local congregations can reach out to other religious groups — to get to know them, and to come together for the common good of local communities. We urge you to do so, or continue to do so, and especially to see that your local Muslim communities are invited to join. The times call for it. And in your local congregations, time should be given to Bible study and theological reflection on these matters because we must overcome the barriers in our Christian heritage that could discourage us from forming friendships with non-Christians. Just as the UCC has called for a “sacred conversation on race,” we also could use a “sacred conversation on the religious other.” Our guide should be to stand on the Greatest Commandment, to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt 22:34-40). The more we do so, the more love we will bring out from our own tradition and the more our neighbors in other traditions will respond in love. That is God’s requirement of us and promise to us.
Ken and Betty Frank
(Pictured above on the right are Global Ministries personnel in Turkey: Ken and Betty Frank and Alison Stendahl)
Ken & Betty Frank serve with the American Board in Istanbul, Turkey. They share the job of General Secretary of the American Board. They also serve on the board of the Istanbul Interparish Migrant Program (IIMP).