Cal Jernigan – Senior Pastor
How often in your life do you have an experience that is totally unlike any other experience you have ever had in your life?
I just had one of these experiences last week. I am anxious to tell you about it.
Several of us from Central’s staff spent three days at a retreat center in Carefree with the Imams of the leading mosques in the Phoenix area. Imams serve as the local spiritual leaders for the Islamic community. I am positive it was as strange for these Imams as it was for us. Who does this? Why would someone do this?
Let me share some thoughts with you.
One of the things I have been particularly bothered by in the recent past is the amplified rhetoric Christians are spouting against Muslims. Please hear me out. I know we think we’re justified in doing this, but it is now totally in vogue to verbally attack Muslims in America. It seems to even have become the patriotic thing to do. You hear talk (especially in political circles) of people calling for the removal of Muslims from our country. Really?
Close the borders? Batten down the hatches? Turn them out?
Sounds reasonable, right?
Does anyone really believe we can turn back the clock to some imaginary safer time?
Here’s what I don’t think many Christians are processing. The rhetoric voiced against Muslims can one day very easily become the rhetoric voiced against Christians. Think about it.
If it can become illegal to practice any particular religion in America, it can one day become illegal to practice our religion in America. Either there is freedom to pursue and practice your faith in this land, or there is not. The vehemence that is voiced against Muslims today, if accepted and left unchallenged, will one day become the voice that turns against the church in the future.
Don’t think it can happen?
Study Germany during the reign of Nazism.
Don’t think it can happen here?
I do. And I think it’s far more likely than we realize.
Let’s get back to last week’s experience. I want to suggest that we as people fear what and who we do not know. We mock and caricature those we are afraid of. Understand, we do this boldly so as to not reveal our sense of fear, but fear is indeed what is behind the blustering.
I think this is what is happening to Muslims. Because we don’t know any or many of them, we assume the worst. Because none are our friends, we fill in what we don’t know with our weirdest and wildest neurotic thoughts. Every one of them is just like the worst ones of them.
So this is why pastors from some leading churches around the valley decided to spend three days with the leaders of the Islamic community. What did we do? We talked. We listened. We asked questions. We challenged stereotypes. We made friends. We got to know each other.
You know what I learned? I didn’t learn that our faiths are different (I already clearly understood that). I learned instead how much we have in common. We talked about our kids. We talked about our neighborhoods, our schools. We talked about our hobbies… like going fishing. Apparently some Muslims like to fish!!! We talked about our common leadership challenges. We talked. We talked like friends talk. We listened like friends listen. We ate meals together, respectfully.
At one point we were asked to explain our faith to each other regarding the subject of peace. I couldn’t help but think of Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount. Love your enemies. How do you destroy your enemies? Turn them into your friends.
So, am I now any more inclined to believe the tenets and beliefs of Islam? Nope. They didn’t budge me and I’m pretty sure I didn’t budge them. It wasn’t a debate. It wasn’t a “winner take all.” It was a chance to make some friends.
My big take away? I am proud to be able to tell you that I have now become friends with a dozen Islamic Imams.
Where will this lead? Who knows? I talked to one of them about going bass fishing with me. I hope he will.
Does all of this scare or excite you? I think your answer reveals much.
Why not make friends today with someone who is different than you?