What We Can Do about ISIS

Father NabilAt one point on my recent trip to the Middle East an Army chaplain said to me with tears in his eyes, “We are at the beginning of something like the Protestant Reformation, and Father Nabil Haddad is like Martin Luther.”

Father Nabil Haddad is the Catholic priest who invited six of us to World Interfaith Harmony Week in Amman, February 1-7. For several years now Father Nabil has been working with Episcopal priest Bill Sachs, who convenes our interfaith group in Richmond, and he and Bill agreed that it would be good for us to have this experience. Apparently our group is something of a novelty–Muslims, Christians, and Jews who not only “dialogue” about the serious business of interfaith relations, but who also eat together, travel together, and sometimes, just for fun, bowl together. Father Nabil wanted to see that for himself, and also wanted his colleagues here in Jordan to see it.

And so he invited us to his house for dinner, where we were greeted by his wife and adult children (“Wait a minute. Wife and children? Didn’t you say he was a Catholic priest?” Yes, he is. A Melkite Catholic priest, which is closer to Greek Orthodox than Roman Catholic, and yet in full communion with the worldwide Catholic Church). His children were perfect hosts (I got the feeling they’d had some practice), and his wife had cooked the entire meal we enjoyed, and we enjoyed it entirely.

Along with our delegation Nabil had invited a half-dozen US Army chaplains he’s become acquainted with. This was a surprise to us, but we’re learning that with Father Nabil you have to be ready for almost anything. The chaplains turned out to be terrific guys and one of them identified himself to me as a Southern Baptist pastor from Washington state.

As we were getting to know each other our conversation was interrupted by the news that the Jordanian pilot being held by ISIS had been executed, and in the most horrific way imaginable. Someone asked Father Nabil if he would lead us in prayer, and we all stood and joined hands while he prayed for the family of this pilot, and for the country of Jordan, and for peace in the Middle East.

For the rest of the evening this tragic news was the topic of conversation. We ate dinner with the television on, and at one point Father Nabil got a call asking if he could come and make an appearance on national television. That’s when I got into a conversation with the chaplain who told me that Nabil was like Martin Luther.

It surprised me, coming from him, because in the course of conversation I learned that he was a Mormon, and I felt my spine stiffen just a little bit. I can talk to Muslims and Jews. I can even talk to Episcopalians (smile). But here was someone who was not exactly “orthodox,” if you know what I mean: someone whose religion was just enough different from my own that all I could see were the differences and all I could feel was an urge to distance myself.

But I stayed with it. I kept on talking with him. And then he said that remarkable thing, with tears in his eyes, and it made me look at him in a different way: as a fellow human being, certainly, but as someone who was also looking for peace in the world and between our warring religions.

Like me.

That’s been my experience over and over on this trip, as I ride on the tour bus beside a Muslim imam, and talk with my Jewish rabbi roommate after the lights have gone out at night: I’ve been seeing all the ways in which we are like each other on the human level, but also in our desire to see that day when all of God’s children can live in peace. Father Nabil said, “When my Jordanian friends see you–Muslim, Christian, Jew–eating together, traveling together, laughing together…I think they are very jealous! You are setting an example for us.” That doesn’t mean my interfaith group is trying to create “one world religion.” Not at all. In fact we are finding that the more passionately we embrace our own religious identities–as Christians, Jews, and Muslims–the more we are able to respect and appreciate each other’s religions. And what is central to each of them is a love for God and neighbor.

Which makes it clear that ISIS is not Islamic.

When ISIS killed that Jordanian pilot (a faithful Muslim) it let the world know that its agenda is not Islam vs. Christianity; its agenda is to gain control through fear, and it doesn’t care who it kills in order to achieve that goal.*  But suppose that instead of eyeing each other with suspicion the world’s religions joined hands and prayed–for the end of ISIS, the end of extremism, the end of fear?

That’s what we did in Father Nabil’s living room. I joined hands with a circle of friends that included a rabbi, an imam, a Catholic priest, a Baptist minister, and a Mormon chaplain, and we prayed together for an end to the kind of violence and hatred that could do such a thing to another human being. We did it in part because Father Nabil believes this is the only way to achieve peace in the world–for the many religions to stop arguing with each other and join hands in prayer to the One who would love to see his children come together…

…in peace.

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*When Ammar Amonette, the imam who was traveling with us, heard what ISIS had done to the Jordanian pilot he said, “This is not Islam.  The Quran does not allow this kind of killing.”

KOH2RVA: Day 87

come inRemember Jeremy and Monica, the church planters who invited their Muslim neighbors over for dinner?  Well, they’re at it again.  Take a look at this letter I got from Jeremy yesterday:

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Meet Sasha:

This past month we connected with a young VCU student who, for the sake of confidentiality, we will call “Sasha.” Sasha is from a Catholic and Eastern Orthodox background. I would describe her as having a “casual respect for God, Jesus and the Bible,” but as having no understanding of who Christ is, or the message of the Bible! She connected with Monica at the VCU Gym and then we had her over for an evening, which turned into an 8-hour conversation!

We ate dinner, and Sasha immediately began asking us about what we believe as “followers of Jesus.” The conversation was an excellent opportunity for us to start to plant seeds about what it means to live by faith and to have a genuine relationship with Christ. After dinner, I went to a meeting and when I came back a few hours later, Sasha was STILL THERE with Monica and she had opened up about so many difficulties in her life and then she opened up to both of us asking for advice concerning her difficulties. So we shared some biblical counsel with her, and then the conversation went back to what it means to be a true follower of Jesus (and, surprisingly enough, SHE is the one who brought the conversation back to that issue too!).

We see her a few times a week at the campus (just interacted with her again last night!). Please be praying for Sasha as she has heard the gospel and is rethinking her own stance towards Christ. Please pray that she will come to a conviction concerning her need to submit and surrender her life to Christ, pray that we will have wisdom, discernment, humility and boldness in our interactions with her!

God is moving, it is SOOOO exciting! The doors are opening! Pray for MORE doors for the gospel to open up, and pray for those who are hearing the gospel, that they may put their faith in Him and that His love may SHINE into their lives!

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One of the things I love about Jeremy and Monica’s approach is the way they offer hospitality to strangers.  When they open the door of their home, they literally open doors of communication and understanding.  And I don’t get the feeling they’re being disingenuous about it—they’re not pretending to be nice in order to convert people to Christianity.  They genuinely love people, all kinds of people, even (or perhaps especially) people who don’t know Jesus.

I think we need to talk about this more on our year-long, every-member mission trip.  How can we practice the kind of radical hospitality that welcomes people into our homes, into our churches, and into our lives?  How can we share with them the hope that is in us, not simply so we can carve another notch on the spines of our Bibles, but because these are people God loves, and because he calls us to love them, too?

 

Welcome to Christiantown

I know a woman who doesn’t want to be part of any Christian denomination; she just wants to be a Christian.  She says, “I don’t want to be a Methodist (and you really have to hear her say it to understand just how much she doesn’t want to be one, even though she grew up in that denomination and married a Methodist minister), I want to be a Christian!”  She points to that passage in 1 Corinthians 1 where Paul says he has heard about some who are saying, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.”  And then Paul says (and you would really have to hear him say it to understand just how much he is horrified by the idea), “Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?  Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Cor. 1:12-13).

This is this woman’s argument precisely: that Christ is not divided, that John Wesley (the founder of Methodism) was not crucified for her, nor was she baptized in the name of John Wesley.  She was baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.  She wants to be a Christian, dadgumit.

And so I told her about Christiantown, an imaginary place where people live together in perfect Christian unity.  I said that in Christiantown the Methodist family might live next door to the Lutheran family, but both families live in Christiantown.  There are lots of streets, with lots of houses, and lots of happy families living inside.  There are Baptists, and Presbyterians, and Catholics, and Pentecostals, and every other kind of Christian you can imagine, but what they have in common is a shared commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord.  No matter how much they love their respective families they know who was crucified for them, and in whose name they were baptized.  They know what makes them one.

I tell this woman that what she doesn’t want to be in Christiantown is homeless; she doesn’t want to wander the streets forever, looking in through the windows as families are sitting down at the supper table, as they hold hands and say grace with the glow of candlelight on their faces.  She needs to become part of a family.  She needs to find some Christians with whom she can enjoy that warm, nourishing fellowship, and with whom she can worship and serve the Lord.

So, I’ve encouraged her to visit some churches, and find a good one, and join it knowing that she is not abandoning her commitment to Christ, but only finding a home in Christiantown.  I hope she will do it, and I hope that family—whatever its name might be—will take her in.

She needs a home.