The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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August 12, 2013

Craig Tally: Picture a good example of strong faith

JOPLIN, Mo. — It was all smiles last Saturday evening as Jews, Christians and perhaps people of other faiths joined members of Joplin's Islamic Center for the Iftar meal, breaking Saturday's day of fasting and prayer for Muslims. At least the front page photo in Tuesday's issue of the Globe, capturing the beautiful smiles of three ladies in attendance, seems to suggest this.

The headline above the photograph reads boldly, "Standing united." At least two, possibly three different faiths are represented in the picture. I know this because the lady on the far right, Kathryn, is a friend and is a Christian. I am assuming that at least one of the other two ladies is Muslim.

So, what is the headline implying? Some would interpret, myself included, that it hails the spirit of neighborly love that is taught by all faiths. What little I understand about the teachings of Judaism, Islam, and other faiths, love for neighbors is a core belief, as it is with Christianity. My encounters with people of different faiths are consistent with what is taught about caring for all people.  

Jews, with their synagogue, have been a part of the Joplin landscape for a long time. We are now seeing Muslims, with their mosque, moving in and being welcomed as neighbors. Much headway has been made in the last year since the burning of Joplin's mosque.

But some see the headline "standing united" to mean something entirely different.

There is, for many Christians, a latent fear that standing united with people of other faiths means compromise -- that, because of one's association with people of other faiths, or no faith, one's commitment to Christ becomes watered down, diluted. That somehow one is less a Christian because of this association; or, even worse, that one will fall victim to some grand scheme of Satanic entrapment.

This fear was present in the heart of the Pharisees. Jesus repudiated this thinking by hanging out with tax collectors and other sinners. He took aim at this exclusivism when, in a parable, He presented a Samaritan as a better neighbor than a rabbi and a priest. The message is not that Samaritans are better neighbors, but that a Samaritan might, at any given time, behave more neighborly than a Jew or, by implication, a Christian.

As I reflect upon the Globe's photo, I can assure you that Kathryn is anything but an insecure Christian with a diluted faith. In fact, I would suggest that her presence, supported by her smile, is indicative of a strong, secure faith.

At the Core Beliefs panel discussion in June (one of several interfaith activities planned for Joplin this year), I introduced the three panelists -- one representative of each of the three Abrahamic faiths. I spoke what I know to be true: each of the three, whom I know personally, is strong in their respective faith. There was no watering down of Judaism, Islam or Christianity; no shyness about one's beliefs; no hesitation.

Following the program, I enjoyed a lively discussion with three or four Muslims. They were eager to talk about their faith. Were they trying to convert me? No. Were they challenging my beliefs? No. Were they offensive in any way? No. Rather, I believe they wanted, more than anything, to be understood as my neighbor.

Clearly, the Christ of Christianity calls us to love one another and our neighbors. He shows us that it is not possible to love from a distance. Given His teaching and behavior, most certainly He would look with favor upon a Christian presence at last Saturday's event.

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