Amy at Texas Faith: What’s the best way for people of one faith tradition to engage people of another?

TEXAS FAITH: What does Southwestern Baptist acceptance of a Muslim student say about one faith engaging another?

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The decision by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to admit a Palestinian Muslim to the school’s Ph.D. archaeology program has stirred attention. For one thing, the decision was an exception to the seminary’s admissions policy. Southern Baptist seminaries have historically admitted those who intend to become Southern Baptist ministers. Churches send money to help pay for each student’s tuition. And the idea that churchgoers were sending their money to educate a Muslim student didn’t seem right in some quarters.

Seminary President Paige Patterson says the student is “a peace-loving man” who worked with other Southwestern students at the school’s archaeological dig in Israel and will abide by the school’s moral conduct requirements. He said non-Christians have been accepted in the past in rare cases with hopes they would convert.

Texas Faith contributor Jim Denison, a former faculty member and alumni of Southwestern, raises the issue on his website of religious exclusivity. “For a Baptist seminary to admit a Muslim student seems like the Republican National Convention inviting Bill Clinton to be its keynote speaker.  Both decisions would make headlines.”

All religious faiths are exclusive in one form or another. All have their rules, regulations and conventions. No question that Southwestern has the right to set the conditions for admission – and even the obligation to do so in furtherance of its religious faith. Denison asks a question: What’s the best way to engage people of other faiths?

The Southwestern decision raises some provocative questions: If it were a, say, Methodist seminary, not Southern Baptist, would it have been news? What if the student hadn’t been Muslim? When are a religious faith’s principles and guidelines helpful and when are they not? How should people of one faith engage people of another faith?

That’s this week’s question: What’s the best way for people of one faith tradition to engage people of another?

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AMY MARTIN, director emeritus, Earth Rhythms; writer, Moonlady Media

How to engage people of another faith? With humility and by example. Certainly not with any of the options outlined, unless the goal is to push more and more people, especially millennials, away from your religion and all religion in general.

Why humility? To quote theologian Robert Hunt, “Religion is the penultimate answer.” All any faith path can do is try to understand the ineffable the best it can with the two pounds of grey matter we’ve been blessed with along with our limited life perspective. The crucial word here is “try.” And as has been mentioned many times in the Bible, as well as other spiritual texts, it is only by our actions that we can be truly known.


Graphic Credit/Todd Slater