I have been reading Brian McLaren for some time now, so I was interested to read his latest book, Why did Jesus. Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? This book was fittingly released this week on September 11 and it piqued my attention as it is in the wheelhouse of my doctoral thesis. I downloaded the book to my iPad and was off to the races last night. Given the recent developments in the Middle-East this book is very timely. Those tragic and violent acts had me wanting to once again reach back to the work that I have been engaged for the past few years and seek direction in this time of unspeakable violence.
In fleshing out his motivation for writing this book, McLaren declares; “My pursuit, not just in this book but in my life, is a Christian identity that moves me toward people of other faiths in wholehearted love, not in spite of their non-Christian identity and not in spite of my own Christian identity, but because of my identity as a follower of God in the way of Jesus.”
That just caused me to say a great AMEN! In Conversation, Not Conversion: Deepening Christian Faith and Commitment through Interfaith Dialogue, I take the theological stance that we ought to be drawn closer to people of other faiths as a faithful response to the baptisms to which we have been called. Conversation Not Conversion, sought “to discover what happens when we seek to learn more about people of other faith. Specifically, [the] work affirms the notion that at the heart of fostering a deeper expression of our own Christian faith is a relationship with those of other faiths. Learning more about the other and his/her faith can lead to an enriched experience of one’s own faith.”
In short, our need to be in good relations with people who are ‘other than’ ought to be driven by nothing other than the commitment we have made to Jesus.
Consider what we promise in baptism.
“There are key contractual or covenant commitments that are proffered by each Anglican at baptism and indeed at every baptism attended subsequently, by way of reaffirmation:
- Will you persevere in resisting evil and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
- Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?
- Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbour as yourself?
- Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”
We strive for peace and justice for all people and respect for every human being. We promise to honour dignity in others. I believe that it is outrageous to suggest that I can honour the dignity in another human being if from the moment I meet him/her I need to condemn that person because he/she is not like me.
“Understanding the faith of others should strengthen rather than weaken a person’s commitment to his or her own tradition.” To illustrate his point Muslim scholar Liyakatali Takim, who wrote those words, uses the example of Professor Wilfred Cantwell Smith, who reportedly, when he was asked if he was a Christian, responded, “Ask my neighbour.”
Ultimately that is the question we need to all ask ourselves. What we see often in the church runs counter to the messages of our baptisms. McLaren writes, “In the Bible I read about love, love, love, but in various Christian subcultures in which I’ve participated, I keep encountering fear, superiority, and hostility. In a wild array of forms, the message comes to me from the centres of religious power: I can’t belong to our us unless I am against our them.”
Sadly we see this in people like the Christians who have endorsed this ridiculous video that has inflamed current tensions. So it is with people within our communities whose response to the most recent acts of violence is to suggest that a violent reaction is the answer. So it is with politicians who have politicised these recent events to further their agenda to gain power.
But ours is a call which says that we are to love; not just love neighbour or friend, but to love enemy even.
“There is something real and good in my faith—a call to love God and neighbors—that I can’t abandon without feeling a pang of betrayal. There is also something wrong in my faith—a vague hostility toward the cherished religions of my non-Christian neighbors—that I can’t tacitly support without feeling an equal and opposite pang of betrayal.” We are called to live a way of life that is admittedly difficult. It may even seem foolish to the world which sees only competitive ways of living. We live in a world of winners and losers. But when we embrace this way of life, sadly we all become losers.
These have been difficult days. They are tough days to declare openness toward our Muslim brothers and sisters, when so many want to lash out. But we must be reminded – Muslims are appalled by this violence. Christians ought to be appalled by it as well. We all need to channel our anger, our hurt, our sadness, and our disappointment into building relationships, removing barriers, restoring hope, and rejecting hatred, vilification and vengeance. If we do not, we will all feel a pang of betrayal.
 Brian McLaren, Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? (New York, Jericho Books, 2012), 10.
 Kevin George, “Conversation, Not Conversion: Deepening Christian Faith and Commitment through Interfaith Dialogue.” (DMin. Thesis, McCormick Theological Seminary, 2012), 5.
 Ibid., 8.
 Liyakatali Takim,“From Conversion to Conversation: Interfaith Dialogue in Post 9-11 America,” Muslim World 94 (2004): 346.
 Ibid p346
 McLaren, 14.
 Ibid., 14.
I am mightily waiting for Muslims to SPEAK UP publicly and en masse and condemn the violence that their extemists do “because their prophet Mohammed has been insulted” by one idiot’s video. Jesus’ name is used as curses every day and Christians do not go out to kill in retaliation because their God has been insulted. My God is bigger than idiots. He does not need to be avenged. My God asks me to love my enemy,yes, but I will not be silent and appear to condone senseless violence.
I wonder what you have been watching/reading? Clerics have denounced this. Not to mention the thousands who have risked their lives in the streets in protest. This is such a small portion of the Arab people as Clerics who have denounced this have pointed out. For instance, The hooliganism in Egypt yesterday totaled about a thousand people… There are 85 million people in Egypt. These are nations who are still grappling with what democracy is. There are competing factions seeking power. This recent violence has little to do with that film … That becomes the excuse, but it is not what precipitated these acts.
I think we read/watch/hear what we we want to hear. After 9-11 the Islamic community in the world denounced the unspeakable violence and worked to build bridges in fact. I still hear people say that Islamic leaders were silent on 9-11 — simply untrue …. As it is untrue to suggest that they have been silent now.
Christian leaders have been eerily silent however. Where are the voices who would denounce the foolishness that was produced in that video. Where are the Christian leaders when pastor Jones is endorsing these videos and inciting more hate?
May I please state my main point again: one idiot pastor burning the Koran did not incite Christians to riot and kill Muslims. If someone burned a Bible, I don’t think Chrisiians would kill the perpetrator of that act. President Obama and Hilary Clinton have bent over backwards to placate the offended extremists who tore down the American flag and killed four diplomats. One thousand rioters out of 85 million is still too many! And that’s just in Egypt. Please don’t trivialize the numbers. My ambassador friend tried to help the people of that “nascent democracy” and he was killed. I can’t say ‘oh well.’ We can denounce the video all we want but no video or film is justification for the violence and deaths. I saw a bunch of yahoos on my t.v. screen and I saw a lot of women in hijabs shaking their fists in accord. The Muslim Brotherhood government leader of Egypt said NOTHING to protest the riots and mayhem. What does this say about a religion that proports to be about peace when its adherents have over and over exploded in violence against innocent people, praising Allah as they did the deed. If the hooliganism had “little to do with the violence” why are we hearing over and over that the prophet was offended? And why should we continue to grovel and ask pardon for one videographer when one out of 330 million is hardly statistically more than a blip. You wonder “what I have been reading and watching” and that sounds a bit offensive to me, Kevin.
there are indeed plenty of fringe extreme people in Christianity who have indeed been violent killers – some in fact, have not needed to be on the fringe to use there faith to harm others. Your main point is to compare the best of Christianity to the worst of Islam. This, I believe, is not the way forward. Your premise seems to be that we (Christians) have a moral superiority. The main point of what I wrote in the first place is not so much about what others are doing as much as it is about who we are called to be. Unfortunately for those of us who want to lash out, strike back, blame, etc (all of which are natural in times like this) the One that we follow calls for a different way. [I would hasten to add here that many Christians have used this same One we follow as justification for lashing out, striking back, and blaming]. We follow Jesus whose witness was the way of non-violence. My position in the post above may not satisfy some, but it is rooted in my baptism. Painting a everyone in a respected world religion with one brush (your response suggests that Islam is silent) is not fair. It comes from a place that does not represent the best of who we are. What your president and your secretary of state have bent over backwards to do is to reiterate the fact that these acts are perpetrated by a extreme few (who they have condemned in the strongest language) and remind folks that backlash against Muslims will not be helpful – to that I say Bravo to your administration.
To your point about hearing about the video over and over again – well of course! Those who are on the ground in Libya and Egypt and Yemen have indicated that that the people who are protesting in the streets are not there out of a spontaneity. This is an organized effort by factions of Islam that hate the West. They will use any excuse to incite violence. This is just the latest – same with pastor Jones etc… What we see around the world is growing anti-American sentiment. Any close observer of the events of the past decade or so should not be surprised about anti-american feelings in places around the globe, particularly in nations where there are large Muslim populations.
The media keeps repeating the line “violence in response to an anti-Islamic film.” Most of these folks have not seen the film — the rage that we are witnessing in this world is deeper than this video produced by ‘one idiot.’
There are people speaking out, there are vigils being held by Muslims around the world but it is not the news we are watching/reading/listening to. And it is also not what is being widely reported because it is not what the public wants to see. The major news outlets report what we will eat up… right now we are eating up anything that leads with violence.
Perhaps you would be interested to read this piece which speaks of one of the worlds most influential Muslim Clerics.
Another great piece on current tensions can be found here –
One of our Imams from here in London is in Egypt at the moment. He wrote to one of our members of our Multi-Faith group from inside Egypt and offered this – ” It is a crazy world. Stupid actions invite reactions which are more stupid. I agree with you that the motivation behind these reactions has nothing to do with religion. There are wise words being said but they fall on deaf ears of those who embrace violence as a way of life.”
We live in dangerous times. It is a time wherein we can be easily lead and we can easily forget Whose we are Who we follow. But I will continue to choose to heed His word to love, to make peace, and bring people together — and that may mean encouraging us to dig a layer deeper than the veneer of simplicity that has painted the culture in which we live.
My friend Christopher was killed by extremist Mulims or people who identify themselves as such. It is difficult for me to dig deeper under the veneer of my simple mind and my hated American culture at this time. But I am always mindful that Jesus Christ calls me to love my enemies and that is not easy to do.
These events have more than angered you … They have hurt you – and that is understandable. this sort of hatred and violence is appalling. Living faithfully in the midst of hurt is a tricky operation. – at least it is for me!
This faith business is difficult – loving those who are full of hate is difficult. Proclaiming love in the face of hatred is also difficult. Jesus had much to say about the cost of discipleship.
I applaud you for plumbing the depths of your feelings around this a d for engaging in honest discourse. That is more than most are prepared to do.
You have dug deep — your comment about simplicity and the American Culture is unnecessary. Truth is – you are digging deeper, when most are not. And I thank you for that.
We can try to be mindful of the fact that media creates a tempest out an eddy current as well. The floodlight and the camera create pornography wherever they point. It is the camera that causes you to believe any north american inner city is full of drug addicts who don’t value themselves or anything/one else. The camera and who controls it manipulate opinion. We need to keep our perspective when atrocity invades the dinner table. An example of balance would be this: there are untold numbers of Muslims
(many who are Radical) who live here, in our cities. I don’t recall reading of murderous riots in Dearborn.
— I don’t believe that ANY human-created religion has the one true path. I also don’t believe that ANY human-created religion has foregone violence against their brothers. I can think of the crusades, the residential schools, the mass slaughter of the first nations—- all justified? Were these things the example of the tenets of a given religion? No, I think not. —- suffice to say then that it is a pretty human and caring response to be outraged by outrage. It is a beautiful thing to be horrified by horror. Our mistake would be to oversimplify and not see the complexity beneath the obvious. (excepting of course, the Progressive Conservatives — who cannot take a joke!)
Thank you and Kevin too for consoling me in my hurt. I have often heard the Biblical passages about sic ‘be glad when people curse you and hate you for my sake for…..” I have never wanted to have this test. I only know that injustice makes me furious! How could anyone call him or herself a Christian or a Human Being and support slavery or apporve segregation. Or abuse children. Or kill innocent people of any stripe. I am against imperialism and war. But that is another simplistic view of mine and I am too hurt right now to want to see beyond it.
You are not simplistic at all…
I appreciate your honesty in these struggles.
When I said in my sermon on Sunday,
“it is hard to be loving and peaceful in the face of the violence we have witnessed this week, isn’t it?” …there was a lot of head nodding going on.
These are difficult days that make following Jesus and his message a far ‘more real’ experience. Sometimes what sounds good in theory is hard to put into practice. So we pray for strength to act according to God’s purpose in all that we say and do.