E Pluribus Unum
A Christian pastor and a Muslim Imam walk into a conference room.
No, its not the beginning of a really bad joke. Its something that will actually happen next Thursday evening! Why? Because its time we stopped talking about and at each other and started talking with each other!
I don’t know if you have noticed, but our nation and culture are horribly fractured. Political parties, interest groups, and regrettably, even religious communities all bear some culpability for the increasing isolation and division we now experience. Our national motto, E Pluribus Unum – “out of many, one” – has been inscribed on our coinage since 1786. But it would appear that over the past decade, that oneness has become more fragile. Fear of those not like us, suspicion of those different from us, and faulty assumptions about others have all played a role in this problem. And political leaders and media outlets from all sides are all too eager to use that division to their own advantage.
In the midst of all that is transpiring, I’ve made a good friend of two people who, like me, are eager to try and bridge the widening gap in our culture. How we perceive God is very different, but all three of us have dispensed with the foolish notion that we can’t disagree strongly with each other, and at the same time remain close friends. In fact, with all that has transpired this year in Barcelona, Manchester, Charlottesville, and Las Vegas, we believe this is the perfect time to model what E Pluribus Unum means.
Realizing that ideal doesn’t start with public policy. It starts by building genuine friendships. So next Thursday night, multiple people and organizations will sponsor an event hosted at Covenant Church for this purpose. Those attending will hear stories of what its like to live as a Muslim in America. There will also be a forum where questions can be submitted to the panel. Lots of misinformation about both Christians and Muslims has caused distrust between these two groups for centuries, and we want to provide the opportunity to hear directly from each other. For any who may be concerned that we are ignoring our deep differences, your fears will be assuaged quickly. None of us is interested in hiding where we disagree. True friendship means we can love each other in spite of our radical differences.
What’s the best part? That would be a halal dinner featuring, among other things, the best lamb you will ever taste west of the Prime Meridian! On second thought, that’s not the best part. The best part will be getting to know those with whom you are sharing this wonderful meal!
Our friends at the Islamic Society of Western Maryland already have a history of actively engaging others, and using their faith as a basis for this action. Likewise, at Covenant, everything we do is motivated by a 2,000-year-old message that claims Jesus died for our sins, and rose from the dead to assure eternal life for all who follow Him. I’m aware that my Muslim friends don’t believe this. But that shouldn’t stop Christians from embodying the very incarnation we believe in as a means to cross barriers and live in friendship with others not like us. That’s exactly what we believe Jesus did! So what more appropriate place would there be to host an event of this nature than a place owned by people of the incarnation?
Perhaps some of you reading these words will decide to join us, and I’ll have the opportunity to meet some of my readers in person. If you do, sign up quickly by contacting email@example.com (there will be a waiting list once all reservations are full!). If we don’t see you there, I would challenge you with this: Who will you share a meal with this coming week that is different from you? Many people successfully maintaining one nation depends largely on your answer.
Joel Rainey is Lead Pastor at Covenant Church and Professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. He and his family live in Shepherdstown.