Monthly Archives: December 2015

My Afternoon at the Mosque

DSCN8308This past week our city, the Holy City, made international news again as a presidential candidate proposed that our nation bar all Muslims from entering for a time.  This in a city that from the very beginning was an open and welcoming place for all faiths—Catholics, Huguenots, Baptists, Jews, and yes even Muslims were all welcomed to Charleston!  It is that freedom that has allowed a vibrant religious conversation to take root.

And yet…

Too often we stay within our little ghettos.  The Catholics play with the Catholics; the Protestants sometime play with he Protestants; the Baptist play with the Baptist that are like them.  Every now and then, when there is a tragedy like the one we experienced when Mother Emanuel was attacked, we might play together.  But normally…

The result is a level of suspicion and fear is allowed to take root.  Because we don’t know each other we can fall victim to the rumors and untruths that swirl around.  “You know Catholics pray to Mary.”  “You know Baptists don’t dance or drink, and handle snakes!”  “You know Muslims are all terrorists!”

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Mayor Elect John Tecklenberg addressed the audience

Add that to our Charlestonian desire to be mannerly, to do things correctly, to not offend, to never make a cultural faux pas—then it is easy to understand why we stay on our side of the rivers, within our faith, within our church, within our own kind.  The result is that we never really know.  We are guided by our fears.  We stay estranged and divided from each other.

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In the aftermath of this week, the Central Mosque of Charleston had a open house on Saturday, inviting the community to come and meet and learn.  It was a courageous move on their part.  they didn’t know how the community would react.  They didn’t know how many would come.

I went with my own set of fears.  I had never been to a mosque before.  How am I suppose to dress? What do I do?  What is I am the only one there?  (I now understand the courage it takes someone to come to our church every week!)  Plus, to be honest, it is not in the greatest location.  It is located at 1082 King Street, far from the where Second Sundy on King will take place!  But because I am Baptists and believe deeply in freedom of religion, I went.  What I discovered was wonderful!

IMG_0745We were greeted warmly by members of the mosque—who cover 29 different countries!  Clear instructions and assistance was given.  The only problem was that there weren’t enough chairs!  What a wonderful problem to have!  Many just sat on the floor as Iman Issa led us through a wonderful introduction to Islam, dispelling many of the rumors that we often hear.

IMG_0750Now I know that there are many who will choose to believe what they hear in the media, from friends and neighbors who know absolutely nothing about Islam, or who have had one bad experience.  I am hoping that I am not judged by what people assume or have experienced of a Baptist minister! 

IMG_0762I am not converting to Islam.  I am a Christian by choice and it is through that lens that I see the world and choose to interpret the world.  But that doesn’t mean that I cannot learn from my Muslim cousins.  (Someone raised a question about that.  Abraham had two sons—Ishmael and Isaac.  Jews and Christians trace our lineage back through Isaac; Muslims trace their lineage back through Ishmael.  Both go back to Father Abraham.  That makes us religious cousins!)

That doesn’t mean that we cannot work together, to minister together, to build community together.  We do that across denominational lines.  We do it across faith lines.  Perhaps it is time to do it across family lines as well.

I encourage you go visit the Central Mosque of Charleston.  I am sure you will receive a warm welcome.  The members are doctors and professors and teachers and children—just like us!  They are a part of our community.  They want to join us in making this truly a Holy City!  I hope we can do that—together!IMG_0753

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A Cause for Celebration and Work

In our microwave-Twitter world it is easy to forget how far we have come.  This morning I was looking through a old notebook and came across some staggering numbers. 

In 1993 there were 11,271 pregnancies to females in SC 15-19.

11,271.

That is nearly 1 out of every 10 female teens 15-19. 

15-17 Year Old Decline.jpgThis week the South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy announced that last year there were 4,759 births to females 15-19. 

11,271-4,759=6,512 fewer births to females 15-19.  Since 1992 there have been 48,037 fewer teen births!

Since 1992 SC has witnessed a 54% reduction in the teen birth rate.

The progress SC has made has saved SC taxpayers an estimated $172 million in 2010 alone compared to the costs that would have incurred had the rates not fallen.

But there is still work to do!  There were still 4,759 teen births last year—4,759 too many.  That is why we cannot let up on the progress we have made.  Yet much of it is at risk as Congress seeks to make devastating cuts to programs that have led to much of this success.  Those cuts would eliminate $5 Million dollars that come to SC annually.  Citizens who care about our children, citizens who care about fiscal responsibility need to add their voices to say that we need these programs to continue. 

So we need to take time out of our celebrating to contact our representatives to say that we are only half way there!  We want to continue the progress that we are making in SC and around the country.  For the sake of the budget. For the sake of the children.  For the sake of our nation!

For more information, see the SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy and the National Campaign to Reduce Teen and Unplanned Pregnancies

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Silent No More!

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Over and over again the story we are being told is, “Be afraid!  Be very afraid!”   

And there is plenty of which to be afraid.  We live in a world where mass shootings are more numerous than the days of the year.  We have learned that you are not safe in shopping malls, movie theaters, office buildings, university and elementary classrooms.  In our own city we have learned that even a Bible Study in a church does not guarantee safety. 

In the face of those fears too often the church has remained silent.  We have done so because we haven’t wanted to be impolite.  We have done so because we haven’t wanted to offend anyone who might be sitting in the pews on Sunday morning.  We have done so because we haven’t wanted to be tainted by the dirty world of politics.

So we have been silent, and our silence has allowed a dangerous idolatrous narrative to take root, one that is not worthy of our faith nor our nation.  It has spread, and yet we have remained silent.

We have kept quiet because we believed it would pass.  We have remained silent because surely no one will agree.  We have kept silent because we live in a polite society and to call out this lunacy for what it is, well, it just isn’t mannerly!  Maybe if just ignore our crazy uncle he will just go away!

The past week has given us a glimpse of where this narrative is leading.  The president of a religious university, one whose motto is “training champions for Christ,” has urged students to get their concealed weapons permit.  In his thinking, “If more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in and killed them.”  A leading presidential candidate in a speech in our state has placed his security completely in his weapons.  You don’t stop the bad guys by taking away our guns, you stop the bad guys by using our guns.”  Do not be confused.  These are faith statements, ones completely disconnected from gospel of Jesus Christ!

But not to be outdone, the leading presidential candidate has taken his cue from the Third Reich, substituting Muslims for Jews.  He has invented facts to undergird his fantasy that is completely detached from truth.  His call for a databased of a certain religion, of barring them from even entering the country has brought derision from his own party who fear he has crossed over into crazy land!

These statements have been alarming, even terrifying.  But what is of more concern is the increase in numbers of supporters.  They are willing to ignore the narrative of our faith, the narrative of our country.  It is happening because of the silence on our part!  It is time for followers of the one who stopped violence even as he was being arrested, who went out of his way to welcome the stranger, the outcast—it is time for us to proclaim our story!  It is time for true citizens of this nation who celebrate a home that welcomes “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” who celebrate freedom of religion for all to live into our high calling! 

The great German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” 

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One of my great joys is attending a Friday night football game.  I get emotional during every  pregame when the crowd stands together, joins our voices as the band leads us in singing the national anthem.  We always end with that powerful reminder, “The land of the free and the home of the brave.” 

It is time for us to move beyond just singing, but to proclaim that is who we are!  That is our story!  We will not trade our freedom for the illusion of security.  We will not be afraid!  We will not be silent!

It is time for us to live our story!

It is time for us to tell our story!

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