Arab and American Christians have a role in improving relations between the Muslim world and the United States, say Baptist leaders on both sides.
“As Christians we are called to make a difference,” <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Nabil Costa, executive director of the Lebanese Society for Educational & Social Development, wrote in a Nov. 4 newsletter. “Christian Arabs have an important role to play in bridging the gap between East and West and vice-versa.”<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
The society, also known as the Lebanese Baptist Society, has shifted from sheltering refugees during a 34-day war in Lebanon this summer to community-development projects aimed at public benefit and strengthening Christian presence in areas of South Lebanon and the BekaaValley.
Lebanese Baptists recently sponsored two post-war children’s events: a children’s camp and festival that together reached about 600 children. Each child went home with a back-to-school kit, picture Bible and coloring books. The Sept. 10-14 post-trauma camp at Schneller, BekaaValley, had 91 participants ages 9-12.
With aid from Baptist groups around the world, Lebanese Baptists have launched three water-related projects: an irrigation project in Mieh w Mieh and artesian wells in Deir Mimas and Khorbet Kanafar. A fourth water project is under consideration for the South Lebanon town of Bourj El Moulouk.
Lebanese Baptists are concentrating on projects to benefit whole communities instead just Christians an intentional effort to break down barriers of hatred that have long divided Muslims and Christians.
During hostilities Arab Baptist Theological Seminary and Beirut Baptist School opened their doors to shelter displaced families from southern Lebanon, most of whom were Shiites.
An American Baptist leader just back from Lebanon said something similar needs to occur in the U.S.
Roy Medley, general secretary of American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., was part of a small delegation of church leaders to tour Lebanon Oct. 9-15 and meet with Christian, Muslim and national leaders.
“Over and over in our discussions with religious and political leaders and with everyday folk in the streets, the common sentiment was how important our coming was for Christian-Muslim relations,” Medley wrote on the ABC/USA Web site.
One Muslim leader, Medley said, remarked to the group: “For you as Christians to be here, for you as Americans to be here, carries the message that Christians and Americans do not hate
Muslims or Arabs. You cannot imagine how important that message is for Muslims and Christians in this country!”
Medley said a recurring theme voiced by politicians, citizens, Christians and Muslims was that U.S. policies toward the Middle East undermine the peace that both sides seek. The overwhelming sentiment, he reported, is there will be no peace in the region without addressing the issue of a Palestinian state.
“The other factor which adds to the complexity is the role of Christian Zionism,” Medley said. “This theological perspective is uncritically supportive of the modern state of Israel in all its actions. Many in Lebanon feel that U.S, foreign policy reflects such an uncritical support for Israel. Again and again, Christians and others here referenced the refusal of the U.S. government to call for an immediate cessation of hostilities.”
The American Baptist leader said it is clear that Christians in the United States must become more knowledgeable about the perceptions and hopes of Muslims.
“There is not a single face to Islam–the face of–terrorism, just as there is not a single face to Christianity–Christian Zionism,” he said. “The realities are far more nuanced than us against them.”
Medley said he spoke to leaders of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary about bringing American Baptists to Beirut for learning encounters, and officials there are “very eager to host such visits.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
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