The tenth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks comes later this year. There will, no doubt, be much attention paid to this marker in time, and much review of what we have learned and where we now stand. Many of us remember Sunday, September 16, 2001: congregations were packed as we struggled to understand the events of the previous Tuesday. I suspect many of us think that moment passed too quickly; this may be a good time to pick up that thread. We’ve been discussing a particularly challenging aspect of September 11 with our friend Bill Sachs. That conversation would be helped with your input. After you read his article, go to Alban Roundtable or send us an email with your thoughts on the questions he poses. Many thanks.— Richard Bass, Director of Publishing
September 11, 2001, marked a turning point in American life. The destruction wrought by terrorists in New York and Washington was catastrophic. Subsequent terrorist efforts in the United States have been intercepted, but even failed attempts drive home the reality of the threat facing the nation. For the overwhelming majority of Americans who are religious, the threat is especially troubling. A major world religion, Islam, appears implicated.
Islam’s proximity to terrorism seems confirmed as efforts to root out terrorism have proceeded. An elusive enemy seems empowered by violent religious sentiment. The impression has deepened as radical Islamic groups in Europe have come under scrutiny. Combined with the apparent surge of Islam’s European and American populations, fear of the world’s second largest religion has increased.
Ten years after 9/11, many Americans are alarmed by Islam’s presence. A Gallup survey reveals that nearly half of all Americans admit to being prejudiced against Muslims and their faith. A Lifeway survey concludes that half of all Protestant clergy believe Islam is evil. Popular blogs and commentaries clearly fan these flames. But troubling questions remain for many Americans: what is the truth about Islam and can Muslims be trusted?
The questions are not academic, nor removed from daily life. The number of Muslims in the United States is growing and may number as high as 5 million. Muslims are also dispersing, bringing Islam to American cities and towns where there has been little presence. Increasingly, Muslims, Christians, Jews, and people of all faiths encounter one another at work, at school, and in daily life. Understanding and trust between faiths has become an issue of acute importance. Did 9/11 instill lasting suspicion, or could the observance of its tenth anniversary encourage needed efforts to build interfaith cooperation?
There is little sense that prejudice and misunderstanding are being addressed by congregations. Few Christians understand Islam or interact with Muslims. Despite long-standing talk of “justice” and “diversity,” congregations seem to be doing little to combat prejudice. Most congregations have no dealings with Muslims even in their vicinities. Some congregations encourage efforts to convert Muslims, while others explicitly condemn Islam. Ten years after 9/11, the actions, or the silence, of many American congregations may allow religious suspicion to increase.
At the same time, there is evidence of fresh attention to mission in many congregations. More than ever American congregations envision service to people in need as the pathway to an authentic faith and to making the world a better place. Mission may arise as a way to tap fresh spiritual energies in the congregation or in the hope of moving beyond conflict. Surely, congregational leaders conclude, fresh commitment can emerge through cooperation to feed the hungry and house the homeless. But this logic is rarely applied to understanding people outside the congregation who are different. Few people in congregations make the connection between their spiritual growth and the urgency of building understanding with people of different faiths, including Muslims.
Meanwhile, Islam is in the news daily. Books and articles on Islam shower the public and sell sufficiently that publishers bring out more. But prejudice continues and congregations remain disengaged. To address fear and prejudice, and to extend their emphasis on mission, congregations could promote understanding that builds cooperation. They could educate people about what Muslims believe and what trends are shaping Islam. How are Muslims similar to Christians and Jews? How are they different? What is the shape of Islam in America? How can local cooperation be built so that people of different faiths can build a better community?
Fresh resources are needed for mission with Muslims and people of all faiths. I am working with the Alban Institute to create such a resource in time for the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Your input and insights into the ways you and your congregations have engaged Islam—or not—will help make this resource responsive to the needs of congregations willing to take on this important subject.
- What does “mission” mean in your congregation? Has there been fresh emphasis on mission in recent years?
- Are you aware of increasing religious difference in your community? How have you responded?
- What steps could your congregation take to encourage understanding and cooperation with Muslims and with people of other faiths?
Comments welcome on the Alban Roundtable blog or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Rev. William L. Sachs, Ph.D., is Executive Director of the Center for Interfaith Reconciliation in Richmond, Virginia.
Members: Read Bill Sachs’s article, “Mission and the Challenge of Difference” in the Fall 2010 issue of Congregations.
God’s Tapestry: Understanding and Celebrating Differences
by William M. Kondrath
Theologically and ecologically, differences foster life and growth, but discord within denominations and congregations frequently has to do with the inability of individuals and groups to deeply understand and value differences. In God’s Tapestry, Kondrath shows us how to embrace our true multiculturalism. He demonstrates a threefold process for becoming multicultural: recognizing our differences; understanding those differences and their significance and consequences; and valuing and celebrating those differences.
Public Offerings: Stories from the Front Lines of Community Ministry
by Linda-Marie Delloff
Congregations of most faiths have always been involved in “public ministry”—that is, service with persons beyond the congregation’s membership or regular participants. Through compellingly written stories and an extensive resource list, Linda-Marie Delloff suggests ways for all congregations to reach beyond themselves to better serve their neighbors.
A Door Set Open: Grounding Change in Mission and Hope
by Peter L. Steinke
We resist change less when we associate it with mission and fortify it with hope. So argues longtime congregational consultant Peter Steinke in his fourth book, A Door Set Open, as he explores the relationship between the challenges of change and our own responses to new ideas and experiences.
The Power of Asset Mapping: How Your Congregation Can Act on Its Gifts
by Luther K. Snow
Asset mapping isn’t a new system or theory. It’s a way of thinking, a doorway into an “open-sum” perspective rooted in the Bible and common experience. The Power of Asset Mapping, by long-time community developer Luther K. Snow, shows congregational leaders how to help a group recognize its assets and the abundance of God’s gifts and to act on them in ministry and mission.
Governance and Ministry: Rethinking Board Leadership
April 5-7, 2011
Simpsonwood Retreat and Conference Center
Facilitator: Dan Hotchkiss, Alban senior consultant
Tired of micro-managing? Tired of meetings that kill creativity? Tired of feeling like the operation of your church is at a cross-purpose with the mission of your church?
THEN THIS SEMINAR IS FOR YOU!
Spend three days with Dan and you will never think about congregational governance the same way again. Dan’s concepts work in all sorts of denominations, with all kinds of organizing requirements, and just about any size congregation. With your registration, you receive a copy of Dan’s best-seller, Governance and Ministry: Rethinking Board Leadership.
If April in Georgia doesn’t work for you, how about September in Connecticut? Dan will be repeating this seminar in the fall:
Governance and Ministry: Rethinking Board Leadership
September 20-22, 2011
Holy Passionist Retreat Center – Hartford, CT
Stepping Up to Staffing and Supervision
Susan Beaumont, Facilitator
March 1-3 in Jacksonville, Florida – SOLD OUT
For a full list of education seminars and other events, check out Alban’s 2011 Event Calendar
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