February 29, 2016

Global Neighbors

            One of the New Testament's most profound questions was: “Who is my neighbor?”  I think it is the critical question in a time of burgeoning globalization and religious conflict.  Neighborliness seems an outdated concept in our distracted cultures; however, it is the enduring mandate of the great religions—to love our neighbors as ourselves.

            Yesterday afternoon and this morning I have had an amazing opportunity to exchange ideas about religious difference and peace with Rabbi Donniel Hartman and Imam Abdullah Antepli.  We have not tried to obscure our real differences, nor have we tried to conceal the ways in which our traditions fall short of their own spiritual guidance.  Yet, we have modeled a respectful conversation at the University of North Florida and on public radio, a conversation that portends ways forward in conflictual contexts.
            Our topic at the university focused on shared concerns about peace in the Middle East.  Our hosts at the Interfaith Center (UNF) and Atlantic Institute, a national Islamic initiative that fosters dialogue and understanding, posed evocative questions for us to consider prior to the gathering.  One question sparked long memory for me: “What is my personal connection to Jerusalem, spiritually and emotionally?”

            I articulated my relationship to Jerusalem in the framework of pilgrimage.  As a seminary student, I went to Jerusalem in 1974 as a missionary to convert.  In 1980, I went as a doctoral student to critique—how do the biblical texts really relate to the land.  Can any one of the Abrahamic religions constructively sustain the primacy of their claim to contested land?  As a scholar studying at the Shalom Hartman Institute during the summers of 2012-2013, I moved toward conversation with religious “others” in a more nuanced and respectful manner.  I learned that I was the one who needed converting--to a thoughtful Christian theology of religious pluralism.  Such is the near mystical power of the ancient city.

            During my time here in Florida, I have encountered remarkably welcoming and perceptive Muslim leaders.  They are greatly concerned about the current political rhetoric, and they genuinely long to be agents of peace even as they are too often regarded with suspicion.  They invest time, resources, and professional skills in navigating the rather insular Christian culture of Jacksonville, Florida.  This is the town, after all, where a prominent Southern Baptist leader referred to the Prophet as a “demon-possessed pedophile.”  Sadly, that was not too many years ago!

            I believe that the Spirit of God is leading Christians to re-examine their posture toward persons of other faiths.  We have much to learn from them and, in humility, we can follow the way of Jesus more nearly as we find them to be neighbors.

Molly T. Marshall

Central prepares creative leaders for the church and for the world.

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