This past week my daughter Olivia and I took a seven-hour road trip to the Wild Goose Festival. I must confess that next to bodyboarding I do not know when I have had so much crazy fun. Over 2,000 people converged on Hot Springs, North Carolina to have a celebration of Jesus in a primal, earthy and joyous festival.
There weren’t just Christians at this celebration, but everyone was welcome to the table of joy! I spoke three times on the topic How My Momma, My Wife, and a Little Muslim Boy Saved Me From Racism. People loved it! I had no panic attacks this week. I was in the presence of my true spiritual family.
All Sinners Welcomed!
For Pharisees and political Sadduccess, people who love war, hate diversity, and just cannot stand the thought of Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, Evangelicals, Charismatics, Mainliners, Liberals and Conservatives and many other “sinners” coming to the table of Christ’s joy this would have been too much. I loved it. It was the road trip of a life time for Olivia and me.
Joshua Comes to Town
On the way back home Olivia wanted to watch the movie Joshua on her Ipad. The film is based on the popular book by Josephe E. Girzone. It is the story of Jesus who is portrayed in character Joshua who comes to a small town in the U.S. When he shows up as a handy man Carpenter that starts not only to mend fences and do repair jobs but to fix people’s lives and heal the pain that hinders a beloved community from forming. Not everyone is happy with what he is doing, but in the end, even the hardest and most fearful Pharisees are won over by his abounding love and generosity. I love this story.
I could not see the movie because I was driving. I think it is against the law and probably not a good idea to watch movies while you are driving. So I had to listen to it on the car surround sound. It made the seven-hour drive more bearable.
Olivia would stop the movie about every 15 minutes to ask me questions like “Do you think Donald Trump is going to heaven?” “Is there a hell?” and “How does God want us to live in a country that seems so set on fear and war?” Not bad questions for a ten-year-old. She can be so mature one minute and have a melt down over not wanting to take a bath the next. Why didn’t some one warn me before how complicated and challenging parenting and marriage can be. Some times it can feel like I am living in a beautiful nightmare, but in the end, I am so glad I did not miss this privilege and right of passage. The details of that paradox are a blog post for another day.
What Would Jesus Do?
The question that Olivia asked me that stood out the most was: “If Jesus showed up today as he did in the movie Joshua what kind of job do you think he would be doing?” I must confess I had never thought of this. We discussed would he take a career in politics, religion or activism. It was a fun discussion.
Then Olivia seemed to be smitten by light from heaven. She said, “I think I know exactly what he would do. He would be working at the Wild Goose Festival.”
I laughed at first but then I realized that she was dead serious.
She said, “Dad, think about it. Jesus loves working with his hands and helping people. He does not like to draw unnecessary attention to himself. I think he would love driving the golf carts at the WGF so he could pick up weary travelers who had to walk half a mile from their cars to their camp sites. He might have spoken a time or two, but I think he would rather listen to what the other speakers had to say. When he was not driving the golf cart around, I believe he would be helping the volunteers cook and serve food at the Desanka cafeteria tent. Once he was finished with prepping, cooking and serving food to the 2,000 people at the WGF, he would have volunteered to help Papy Fisher in the Desanka Spirit Cafe where he could pray for people, heal their broken hearts and give away a lot of free hugs. But I think his favorite thing to do would have been to pick up individuals in the golf cart. He could have done that all day.”
Some fascinating insights into the life of Jesus from a ten-year-old who thinks Jesus would have preferred to volunteer at the WGF instead of being a speaker. I think I need to get a golf cart.
What do you think Jesus would do if he were walking among us today? Something to think about.
13 Suddenly a vast, heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,14 “Glory to God in the highest,and on earth peace among people with whom he is pleased!”
Humanity’s Endless Addiction Cycle
Have you ever wondered why we as humans cannot get our stuff together? It seems like the human race cannot hold on to anything good, and violence, scapegoating and greed seem to be our default positions. It is so easy for us to choose fear over love, violence over peace, exclusion over embrace, and greed over hospitality and generosity.
Yet every time we choose to live from the darker side of our nature we become less human. The love, joy, peace, and abundance we desire slips through our fingers, and we are left with a big void in our hearts. A void that only God’s love can fill. Violence, scapegoating and greed cannot live in harmony with love, peace, joy, and generosity. We have to choose.
Rene Girard, a famous French Anthropologist, believes that the foundation of human civilization is built upon the cycle greed, hostility, violence and scapegoating. It is humanity’s endless addiction. He calls this cycle the Principle of Satan. For Girard the idea of Satan is more about this tragic cycle humanity is caught up into than an actual personal Satan. I tend to believe it is both happening at the same time, but you need to decide that for yourself. Nonetheless he gives us an sobering truth about our darker selves. It goes something like this: 1) I desire something (gold, oil, land, power, etc.). This makes you desire what I want. 2) This leads to rivalry and hostility between us and potentially violence. 3) The only way we can end the rivalry, hostility and violence is to find a scapegoat. 4) The scapegoat becomes a sacrifice which brings a false peace between us. The only way we can keep peace between us is to find someone to blame and scapegoat for all our problems. That way we do not have to face the real issues, nor the fact that we might actually be part of the problem.
Scapegoating helps us save face so we can continue living in denial that we are participants in the same evils we claim we righteously want to destroy. This cycle, or Principle of Satan, has been played out through our past and continues to play out now.
The American Story
How? We desire control and security. We cannot seem to work out our problems or differences in our country or our international relationships. So we find a scapegoat in order to bring us together as a nation so we can have peace again. Southerners used to scapegoat black people, and it brought them a sense of false peace and group unity every time they lynched a black person or beat them back into “their place.”
As a nation we nearly destroyed the native Americans by scapegoating them as “savages.” It eased our religious consciouses as Americans as we used the Bible to call native Americans the new “Canaanites” who must be slaughtered and driven from the land so that our grandparents could settle the new frontier. It united our country around the vision of “Manifest Destiny” which meant as we expanded West genocide was acceptable in order to create a nation from “sea to shining sea.”
The Apex Example of Scapegoating
Hitler and the German people scapegoated the Jews in the name of security and killed 6 million people. The Third Reich killed millions of other ethnic groups along with the disabled, gay people, and mentally handicapped. The Jews however, were the largest group Hitler targeted. It shocks me that there are people in this world who still pretend this horrific event did not happen.
We Need To Take A Look In The Mirror
Today some of our leading presidential candidates who claim to be Christians along with 40% of Americans believe we should scapegoat Muslims and refugees by denying our American Muslim citizens their equal rights and turning suffering refugees away from our shores.
Some of the rich in this country scapegoat the poor by saying they should just work harder, and many of the poor scapegoat the rich by assuming they are all greedy thieves. It seems that one of the things that brings a lot of people together in this country is another war. War seems to bring a false sense of peace for a season, but we end up resolving nothing that brings a lasting solution for our nation.
A scapegoat can be a person, ethnic group, or a different religious or political ideology. The truth is that we are afraid to love, and that we as a nation and individuals are part of this terrible cycle of greed, hostility, violence and scapegoating. We are all perpetrators of the the Principle of Satan, and we cannot break out of the cycle because we are trapped and afraid to look within to face our own demons.
God’s Dream & Secret Plan To End This Cycle
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
In spite of our addiction to the Principle of Satan, God has made a way for humanity to break free from this seeming perpetual cycle of greed, hostility, violence and scapegoating. God has a beautiful Dream for the world. It has been His secret plan from the dawn of time to bring down the Principle of Satan that has enslaved humanity, and to end our vicious cycle of suffering. His secret plan is the antidote to the our cycle of greed, violence and scapegoating. His secret plan was to reconcile all things and all people to himself through the person of Jesus.
2,000 years ago God’s Dream for the world arrived in a little baby born in Bethlehem. In some special way, God came to us when God put His Spirit and Word into Mary’s womb and Jesus concieved. Jesus is the incarnation of the Word and Spirit of God made flesh. Just as my dear Muslim friends believe God put His eternal word into a book called the Qur’an, we as Christians believe God put His eternal word into a person.
When God’s Word became flesh in the person of Jesus, it was as if heaven and earth kissed each other, love and truth embraced each other, and matter and spirit became intertwined as everything was made holy. I believe it was George MacDonald who once said, “Matter matters to God.” This means the oceans, animals, people, the trees — everything has God’s blessing in it and upon it because of the incarnation of Jesus. This means how we treat refugees, Muslims, homeless people, economics, our neighbors, children, enemies, and spouses is a reflection of how we view God and respond to his Dream for the world.
Jesus gives us a picture of how the Principle of Satan, (the guiding principle of humanity since the dawn of human culture), has always been at odds with God’s Dream for the world.
12 And from the time John the Baptist began preaching until now, the Kingdom of Heaven (God’s Dream for the world) has been forcefully advancing,[a] and violent people (Principle of Satan) are attacking it (Matthew 11:12)
God had a Dream for this world and violent people still fight that Dream, often it is done in the name of God. If we choose the cycle of greed, hostility, violence and scapegoating, we are in danger of becoming violent people (in our heart or actions) that are fighting or attacking God’s Dream for the world. No matter how many sermons we preach or Bible verses we attach to it we are operating in a way that goes against the very purposes of God on earth.
God’s Dream is so simple it causes us to stumble. God’s Dream is that there is peace on earth and good will towards all people. He dreams of a world where the naked are clothed, the poor have more than enough, the hungry are fed, the widows, orphans and fatherless have loving homes. He dreams of a world where justice and compassion are the rule of the land. His heart is for a world where the rich prosper, but in their prosperity they leave a legacy, not only for their children, but for those who work for them and those who will come after them. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are definitely showing the super rich how to do this. They are partnering with God’s Dream, even if they do not believe in Him or realize it.
Jesus was born 2,000 years ago. His birth was announced to the poorest of the poor — the shepherds. Caesar and all the might and power of Rome missed the whole event. Jesus came not only to save us, but to show us a better way to be human. He gave us a simple message as to how we could break free from the cycle of greed, hostility, violence and scapegoating, and enter into God’s Dream for saving the whole world. He message:
“Love God with all your being, love your neighbor as yourself, treat other people the way you want to be treated, and if you find enemies along the way do everything you can to make them your friends.”
Humanity killed Jesus for his message, but three days later he rose from the dead to prove to the world once and for all that the way of love and the Dream of God were superior to the Principle of Satan.
I yearn to find a church that believes this. Rejoice my friends! God’s Dream can among us in the person of Jesus and now we can choose a better way to be human.
I found this really cool website called We Welcome Refugees. I am so encouraged by their desire to take the message of Jesus seriously in their efforts to help solve this global crisis.
No doubt there are many Americans who are concerned that if we let more refugees into the country we are in danger of letting “sleeper terrorists” slip in among us. Others may feel that the refugee crisis is just too big and we do not have the power or resources to do anything about it. This website does a great job of attempting to address these questions and more. Here is the link to their questions section. I encourage you to at least check it out and maybe make a donation. We Welcome Refugees
Also, they have a section on their website they have a section called “Now Is The Churches Moment.” It will give you a list of organizations to choose from to help refugees. One of my favorites is World Relief. They have a proven track record with helping refugees. Samaritan’s Purse is also leading the way in this crisis. Rev. Mike Slaughter and the United Methodist Church Rev. Mike Slaughter and the United Methodist Church are planning a major Christmas project to raise over 2 million dollars to help refugees. If you prefer a more secular route the The United Nations Help Refugees would be a good consideration. Just do something!
The Greatest Human Migration Crisis In Recorded History
According to Methodist Minister and human rights activist Mike Slaughter we are living to see the greatest refugee crisis the world has ever known. He says, “Wars, conflict and persecution around the world have forced more people to flee and seek refuge elsewhere in recent years than has previously existed at any other time in recorded migration history. The U.N. reported in June that by the beginning of 2015 nearly 60 million people worldwide had been forcibly displaced. One in every 122 human beings is now either a refugee, internally displaced or seeking asylum on Planet Earth. This is simply incredible.” See Mike’s full article: Mike’s Article On Jesus Being A Refugee
These numbers are staggering. I am a student of history. I used to think that the migrations of the barbarians who eventually destroyed the Roman Empire were astounding, but when you look at these numbers there is no comparisons. One difference between the barbarian invasions, the massive people movements of Rome’s final years, and our current refugee crisis is that the barbarians came to conquer Rome, but our present refugees are fleeing for their lives. In order ignore this suffering, misery and want we have to give up our humanity. Be warned! If we give up humanity by closing the doors of compassion on these suffering peoples, who are fleeing for their lives, it will eventually come back to bite us as individuals and as a nation. There will be terrible consequences for all of us. Terrorism thrives where there is great poverty and want. But the most terrible consequence will be becoming a people of fear and indifference.
Jesus & The Refugee Crisis
It is clear from Matthew 2:13 that Jesus was a refugee. Mary and Joseph were told by the angel of the Lord to flee to Egypt to escape the violence and hatred of King Herod. Herod was searching for Jesus so he could kill him. I am so glad Egypt granted asylum to our Lord.
As I stated in my previous blog What Would Jesus Do About The Syrian Refugee Crisis it is clear that Judgment Day is not so much about the precise theological ideology we embraced cognitively, but whether or not we ministered to Jesus in practical ways when he came to us through people suffering on the margins of life (Matthew 25:31-46). One cannot be a follower of Jesus and ignore the implications of Jesus words when he says:
For I was hungry and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me anything to drink. I WAS A STRANGER, AND YOU DIDN’T INVITE ME INTO YOUR HOME….
In the parable of the Ambitious Guest (Luke 14:7-14) Jesus expresses the importance of showing love, compassion and generosity to those who are marginalized and can never repay us. He promises a reward on Judgment Day to those who follow him in loving their neighbor in such sacrificial ways. He says
Then at the resurrection of the godly, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.
I am convinced that of all the great avatars and spiritual leaders of human history none can empathize more with the pain and suffering of humanity than Jesus. Just when I am tempted to embrace the politics of fear, polarization, violence and exclusion that permeate the political ideologies of the Right and Left in this country I am reminded that there is a Third Path. This Third Path of Jesus is to love God with all your heart, love your neighbor as yourself, treat other people the way you want to be treated and if you find enemies along the way do all you can to make them your friends.
Jesus came to show us a better way of being human and he backed it up with his life, death and resurrection. When our Lord rose from the dead he showed once and for all that the path of loving God and neighbor was superior to the path of human default which is desire (envy) rivalry, hostility, violence and scapegoating. He showed us a better way of being human.
What Can You Do To Be More Human?
At the World Refugee Day on June 10, 2015 Pope Francis said:
The number of these brother refugees is growing and, in these past few days, thousands more have been forced to leave their homes in order to save their life. Millions of families, millions of them, refugees from many countries and different faiths, experience in their stories tragedies and wounds that will not likely be healed,” said Pope Francis. “Let us be their neighbors, share their fears and uncertainty about the future, and take concrete steps to reduce their suffering.
I am challenging each of you to not be indifferent but do ONE thing to help with the global refugee crisis. Mike Slaughter offers some practical ways you can help through an upcoming Christmas project in the Methodist Church. Read his blog for more information Jesus Was A Refugee. In my last blog What Would Jesus Do About The Syrian Refugee Crisis? I discussed Lynne Hybels’ article in the Washington Post. Her article is loaded with practical ways organizations and individuals can make a difference. If you decide to do something respond to my blog and let you me know what are going to do. Let’s start of revolution!
*Photo of Pope Francis by VINCENT PINTO/AFP/Getty Images
Coming from an Evangelical Christian background I grew up having a deep respect for the Bible. After being a follower of Jesus for almost 40 years I have come to the conclusion that we as Christians in this country either take the words of Jesus seriously or we become atheists. I cannot stomach a Christian faith that teaches me to love God, but turn my neighbor away if he or she is an atheist, Muslim, Gay or a Syrian refugee.
I want a Christianity that is real. I want a living faith I can sink my teeth into. Many of my Evangelical brothers and sisters are putting their lives, resources, and reputations on the line as they serve the marginalized and hurting of this world. Their love knows no borders nor do they discriminate as they serve unconditionally. There are others, however, who seem to have forgotten what Jesus said about loving our neighbor, helping the suffering and stranger among us and those desperately trying to survive on the margins of of our society and in war zones around the world. Our Lord said:
For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I WAS A STRANGER, AND YOU INVITED ME INTO YOUR HOME. I was naked and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited.
No Christian who claims to be a follower of Jesus can get around these words. They are either true or they are not. What we do with Jesus command determines whether or not we are his followers.
The Politics of Jesus
I have been studying the Bible all my life. I have a bachelors degree in Pastoral Studies and Philosophy, a Masters of Divinity, and an earned doctorate that I completed in 2013. I was an Evangelical minister for 18 years. I am familiar with this wonderful book called the Bible. As an Evangelical I was taught that the Bible was to be read through the centrality of Christ’s teaching, but as I look at the political landscape of Christians both on the Right and the Left I am convinced that if Jesus ran for public office and declared his domestic and foreign policies we would destroy him in the media as a dreamer and idealist. We would probably declare that his message is not relevant to American life today.
Jesus made it clear as to what he believed was the most important central truth of the entire Bible. He said that we must love the Lord our God with all our being, love our neighbor as ourselves, treat other people the way we want to be treated and if we find an enemy we should try to turn him into a friend. There is no way around this. I believe Jesus message applies even if my neighbor is an atheist, Muslim, Gay, or a Syrian refugee who needs a home and a sanctuary. We just cannot get around the politics of Jesus. The Mennonites have been saying this for 500 years.
Applying Jesus Message To The Syrian Crisis
So what do with do with the 4 million Syrian refugees fleeing for their lives from ISIS, president Assad and now the Russians? My friend Lynne Hybels, a leading Evangelical humanitarian, peacemaker and human rights activist has written an outstanding article on how Christians and other concerned human beings can follow Jesus by helping our desperate brothers and sisters whose lives have been destroyed by the war in Syria. I strongly encourage you to open your hearts and minds to what she has to say and ask God how you can follow Jesus in helping these refugees in very relevant ways. Feeling Paralyzed by the Migrant Crisis in Europe? Here Are Some Practical Ways You Can Help. — Lynne Hybels
Recently, my friend Brian McLaren wrote a letter of to Franklin Graham appealing to him as a Christian minister to rethink his position on deporting Muslims and no longer permitting them to immigrate to the U.S. I confess I agree with Brian. If this grand vision of Franklin’s comes to pass then we are not far from putting Muslims in detention camps like we did the Japanese in WWII, trampling on the Bill of Rights, and escalating greater hatred and violence around the world between Muslims and Christians.
Fear offers no solutions, but love helps us find our way and clear our heads. The apostle John, the youngest disciple of Jesus once said, “Fear has torments, but perfect love casts out all fear.” The apostle Paul said, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind.” Love is the only option for those could claim to follow Jesus of Nazareth. It is not always the easy path, but it is the path that leads us to the way, the truth and the life.
I am a full-time peacemaker in the way of Christ. For the past ten years I have traveled across the U.S. and overseas teaching Muslims and Christians how to follow Christ. What do I tell them? What does it mean to follow Christ? What do I attempt to show them? Jesus taught that on a foundational level to follow him means that we love God with all our being, love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves (even if they are Muslims:)), treat other people the way you want to be treated and if you run into enemies along the way pray for them, do good to them and try to turn them into friends. We either believe the message of Jesus or we don’t. It would be better an atheist than to claim to follow him and show contempt for any group of people.
Brian asked if he could post the video recording of how God used the little Muslim boy Omar in my life to turn me from hating Muslims to loving them. This is the longer version of the story that I share in churches, mosques and synagogues. It gives a lot more detail than my written blog post. If you would like to watch that video go to Brian’s blog and watch it. CLICK HERE: http://brianmclaren.net/archives/blog/dear-franklin-graham.html
This challenge from my seven year old daughter to help Meriam would take me on an amazing adventure I would never forget.
When I asked my seven year old daughter Olivia what she thought about me going to Sudan to try to help Meriam Ibrahim, her response surprised me. She said, “Dad, are you kidding me? Do you even have to think about this? You have to go and try to help Meriam and her babies! Oceana, my wife supported me 100% on this mission.
Back Story: Two Days Before Olivia’s Challenge
I had received several emails from individuals requesting that I attempt to do something about the impending trial and execution of Meriam Ibrahim of Sudan, who was scheduled to be executed for adultery and apostasy. The story of her case had become an international sensation. “If you are going to be a serious peacemaker then you need to do something about helping this woman,” was the gist of some emails I was receiving. I wondered what I could possibly do in a nation frowned upon by the U.S. government. A nation in Africa that was 11,000 miles from me in North Carolina.
My Muslim brother Abdel Azim Elsiddig, an Islamic scholar, peacemaker and friend, had received calls and emails from both Muslims and Christians to see what he could do as an American citizen who was also from the Sudan.
It was in mid-May of 2015 when Abdel called saying I needed to travel with him to Sudan by May 27th because Ali Karti, the Foreign Minister of Sudan, had agreed to meet with us in Khartoum concerning Meriam’s case. He said that we would also meet with some key individuals in the judicial system to discuss Meriam’s situation, and who could help us understand the legal complexities of this case that you never heard about in the media. I was glad that Abdel and I would be taking this journey together. He was a peacemaker and expert in Islamic sharia law and he knew all of these key governmental officials.
Become The Answer To Your Own Prayers
I literally could not believe this was happening. My head was spinning. I thought to myself, “Who am I to stand before these men?” I had been praying for Meriam for several months before this happened. I asked God to help her and to send people to do something about this. It did not enter into my wildest imagination that God would ask me to become the answer to my prayers. All I had was great love and confirmation in prayer from the Lord that I must go.
Meeting With The Foreign Minister
The following is shared with the permission of Ali Karti, the Foreign Minister of Sudan
While I was in the Sudan it was my highest privilege to meet with Ali Karti, the Foreign Minister of Sudan. He was the third most influential leader in Sudan. There has also been a great deal of controversy concerning his involvement in the Darfur crisis. We had a wonderful meeting together that lasted for several hours. Believe it or not we spent a good chunk of that time talking about Jesus and how Muslims and Christians can find a common bridge of connection in him, but the main focus of our conversation concerned Meriam.
The Foreign Minister made it clear to me that he did not agree with the lower court ruling concerning Meriam’s case. In fact he was surprised that it even got as far as it did. He said there were many interfaith marriages in the Sudan, so this ruling was a shock to him and to many Muslims and Christians in the Sudan.
He went on to explain to me how there were many diverse Islamic rulings that could have been chosen in a case like this, but for some reason the lower court went with this most severe one. He said to me that there had not been an apostasy ruling like this one in decades and that particular court case had nothing to do with interfaith marriage. He believed that this ruling was not a relevant Islamic legal option for modern Sudan today. He also believed that the ruling was unconstitutional because the constitution of the Sudan guarantees, in principle, religious freedom for all of its citizens.
I was told that under Islamic law a Muslim man can marry a Christian woman but a Christian woman, cannot marry a Muslim man. It still happens and in some instances the marriages are eventually accepted by the families, but in situations where they are not accepted the families simply cut off relationships with the couple. Meriam had a Christian mother and a Muslim father. Although he left Meriam and her mother when she was a small child this was the first instance that Foreign Minister knew of where an interfaith marriage in Sudan was being challenged on the grounds of apostasy in a Sudanese court.
Foreign Minister Karti went on to say that the firestorm that Meriam’s case had caused around the world was good for the Sudan. Some Muslim judicial leaders, scholars, politicians and clerics in the Sudan were saying that this case has shown them that they were in need of legal reform, and that archaic laws like this should be removed. The issue of constitutional reform was a conversation among many of them that had started as a result of this case.
As our conversation progressed Minister Karti made it clear that he had openly expressed his opinion to the international community. He gave me permission tell my friends that he was confident that Meriam would not be sentenced and executed, but that her case had to go through the court system because the executive branch of the Sudanese government does not have authority over the judicial branch. Meriam’s lawyer had made an appeal and he could contest each ruling all the way to the Sudanese Supreme Court.
Although Ali was an influential leader in the Sudan he could not just step in and force the courts to do what he wishes. He told me that he was confident that the ruling would be overturned in the judicial process. His desire was to see Meriam being able to go home to be with her husband while her case was working it’s way through the court system. He also was of the opinion that this lower court ruling that demanded Meriam renounce her marriage to a Christian and convert to Islam would be thrown out of court. As I stated previously, the current constitution of the Sudan in principle guarantees religious freedom for all of its citizens, but unfortunately this is not always enforced as it should be. The constitution as it stands now would make the lower court ruling unconstitutional because it would be a violation of Meriam’s religious freedom as a citizen of Sudan.
As I got to know Minister Karti I did not sense any deception or guile in his words to me. I told him that I often take a 45 minute prayer walk on the beach near my home, and that I had been praying earnestly for him and his country. I told him that I believed he wants to be a compassionate and just leader. I reminded him that God wants all of the citizens of the Sudan, both Muslims and Christians, to prosper and feel safe in their own country. I said, “My dear brother Ali, God wants you to seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly before Him. He wants you to fight for the widows, the orphans and the oppressed. He wants you to stand for those who are weak and have no power and cannot stand up for themselves. He wants you to love the Lord your God with all your heart, love your neighbor as yourself and treat other people (both Muslims and Christians) the way you want to be treated. Brother Ali, I believe you have come into a place of influence for such a time as this. I promise you this day that every time I walk the beach to pray I will call your name out to God. I will pray that you will be just and merciful as He is and that you will love all your people well. The Qur’an says that if you save one life it is as if you have saved the whole world.”
Minister Karti seemed deeply touched by what I said. He paused for a moment to reflect and then responded, “Brother Jeff, when you pray on the beach my heart will be connected to yours and we will be together bound by eternal friendship. Please continue to pray for me that I will be the man God wants me to be.”
After two trips to the Sudan and five weeks after my first meeting with Minister Karti I received the following brief email from the Foreign Minister.
Thank you my brother… A few hours ago an Italian plane took off from Khartoum. On board was the deputy Italian foreign minister accompanied by the lady (Meriam Ibrahim), her husband and their two children. You have been with us all the time we were dealing with this issue. I hope to see you soon to pray together for a better future of the relationship between our two nations.
I was deeply touched and honored that the Foreign Minister went out of his way to let me know that he and his people had kept their word. He did not have to take the time to do this. I hope to pray with him again in the future.
The Only Way To Get Rid of An Enemy Permanently
It has been over a year since Meriam was released. She is living in the U.S. with her family and has created a new life.
It was a joy to be part of this amazing journey and to see first hand what God can do when we reach out in friendship to those we often perceive to be our enemies.
I have been told by some of my Sudanese friends that the Sudanese government does not care about sanctions and how much pressure the world puts on them. You will find this type of thinking all over Africa. They are used to Western disapproval and international pressure. This is a huge mistake that we as Americans make when we engage the Muslim world. Martin Luther King Jr. said that the only way to get rid of an enemy permanently is to make him your friend. I am convinced that most of our problems in the world could be solved over a few meals if we would go to the people we often think of as our enemies, listen to them, talk about Jesus, and put some of their interests above our own. Abdel and I attempted to do this in the case of Meriam and it worked. As I sat with these men I did not find enemies, but new friends who often saw the world through a different lens. I found we had way more in common than not. I love the people of the Sudan and a piece of my heart will always be there. God has a destiny for that country.
My goal in peacemaking is never ideological or theological conformity. Unfortunately, this seems to be the default position of our government and often our churches. My goal in peacemaking is to get people to like me and want to have a relationship with me. What I have found over the years is that I can be on the opposite end of the ideological spectrum with some one but if we start eating together and becoming friends then we start finding ways to work together to make a lasting change in the world. This really works. I have experienced this firsthand. If we wait for the people we often think of as our enemies to come into line and agreement with us theologically, politically, or ideologically, then polarization will remain. In the end we are all just people. Starting with friendship, loving our neighbor and treating other people (including nations) the way we want to be treated might just be the best starting place. I think Jesus said something very similar 🙂
As I said the turning point in all of this was when these Sudanese leaders realized that Meriam’s case was unconstitutional. The Sudan’s constitution guarantees religious freedom but unfortunately it is not always enforced by everyone in leadership on the grass roots level. Meriam’s execution would have been a violation of their own Islamic constitution. All of this took place over meals with prayer, laughter and building friendship. I credit my dear Muslim brother Abdel Azim Elsiddig with this because he is an expert in sharia law and he has known these men most of his life. I just had the honor of serving with him and being there to represent a Christian presence and perspective. I have not mentioned all of the names of the leaders I met with in the Sudan. These humble men did not want any recognition or publicity for what they did.
I am convinced that had it not been for the years of peacemaking that my good friends former Congressman Mark Siljander and Imam Abdel Azim had done in the Sudan none of this would have happened. I simply stood on the shoulders of giants.
Meeting With Meriam Ibrahim
Abdel and I were permitted to meet Meriam in person at the prison. We were told by Sudanese officials that we were the first Americans to meet with her. She was a shy person and somewhat withdrawn. Abdel was able to make her laugh. Her children were beautiful. I told her that there were thousands of people praying for her in the U.S. and around the world. I asked her if she had a message for them. All she said was “Pray that I will be released.”
As a Southern Christian from an evangelical/charismatic background, I have been building bridges of love and peace to Muslims in the U.S. and overseas for almost ten years. I have been amazed by the kindness, generosity and goodwill I have encountered and experienced from new Muslim friends. Some people ask me why aren’t more Muslims speaking out against terrorism or trying to contribute and help non-Muslims in the U.S. who need help and assistance. I have found many Muslims who are doing both, and I will be sharing many of these types of stories in future blogs. Here is a story that I found deeply touching. American Muslims raised over $100,000 to help rebuild Black churches that had been targeted by both arsonists and natural causes. I say a hearty Well Done!” to my Muslim friends for this one. If we have to compete with the Muslim community may it be with similar love and good deeds. I hope you enjoy the links to the story below.
As a Southern boy born in the rural South in the 60’s and early 70’s I grew up flying the “Stars and Bars” proudly from the front porch of my house and from my clubhouse (the old smoke house attached to our family home). I was the ring leader of a rough and tumble group of boys who loved playing army, camping out with our dogs, fishing, playing lost trail, whiffle ball and best of all werewolves, the favorite game of the neighborhood that I proudly invented.
Sometimes when we would play army we would play the Civil War. For hours we would reenact Civil War battles in our back yards, out in the woods, and on the hillsides and creeks near our neighborhoods. I loved pretending to be a Confederate soldier as I proudly wore my “Johnny Reb” grey cap and waved the “Stars and Bars” on a thick wooden dowel as my flag pole. I would joke that we were reenacting the war between the Yankees and the Americans. Those were fun times and they were naive times. As children it was about play. We did not understand the deep implications of the racial injustice, human trafficking, slavery and oppression of black people that the Confederate flag represented to so many African Americans. As a Southerner and a small child I was proud of my Confederate heritage. I believed in heritage not hate. Like I said I was still naive.
In spite of my naivete I had a great role model of tolerance and racial inclusion in my mother. At an early age my mother had saved me from racism and hatred. She invited black people to our home and encouraged my friendship with my first black friend LC who became my best friend in the second grade. He would come home with me after school, have dinner and play with me. Some of our neighbors did not like it, but that did not matter to my mom. She warned me when I was seven years old that if she ever heard the word “nigger” come out of my mouth that she would wash my mouth out with soap. She changed my life. LC told me later that he looked at my mother as the mother of all the kids who came to my house to play.
Around the age of 13 I came to faith in Christ. It changed everything. I loved everyone. I wanted to go out and hug everything and everyone. I told everyone in my public high school about Jesus. I evangelized everything that moved. My friends used to get frustrated with me because when they began evangelizing their fellow high schoolers they said, “I have already heard this stuff. Jeff Burns has already told me all about Jesus and the gospel.” Some of my “disciples” handed out Bible tracts and said, “Read this booklet. It changed Jeff Burns’ life.” These funny memories still make me laugh.
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During high school I led some of my black friends to Christ and wanted to invite them to church. Why not? The gospel of Jesus destroys racial, gender and social/economic barriers. At least it did for the early church (Galatians 3:28). This was one of the main reasons it spread so swiftly through the Roman Empire. House servants and slaves led their Roman masters and their children into the Kingdom of God. These early Christians believed that when they took the Lord’s Supper together that they were experiencing paradise restored on earth. Slaves, masters, men, women, children and neighbors sat at the same table, broke bread together and worshipped in an unsegregated space.
This early collection of diverse humanity believed that the kingdom of God had arrived on earth in the person of Christ, and the impact and implications of his gospel were taking humanity into a reality of peace on earth and good will towards ALL people. Through the gospel they could opt out of the violent, oppressive and unjust reign of Caesar’s kingdom and opt in to a kingdom where love, forgiveness and unity reigned under the Lordship of Christ.
Is it any wonder that by the third century over 50% of the Roman Empire had embraced the Christian faith? (See Rodney Stark’s book, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in A Few Centuries) It was only when the church got in bed with the Emperor and exchanged the gospel of love and peace for political power and favor that the church morphed into something that could embrace war, genocide, slavery and racial, ethnic and economic segregation. I guess loving God, loving neighbor and treating other people the way we wanted to be treated and making our enemies our friends made the church and its new lover the Empire too uncomfortable.
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I was excited to invite my black friends to my church, but I was told not to do that again. My pastor instructed me that they have their church and place and we have ours. The people in my home church either gave them dirty looks when they came to visit or completely ignored them. My black friends never came back. My pastor would shamelessly called black people “niggers” from the pulpit. I confronted him about this and we had heated arguments over this issue. I deeply loved him like a father, but I would not back down. I think deep down he knew he was wrong, but his pride and the acceptance of racism by many people he shepherded got in the way. My experience was normative for many white evangelical fundamentalist Baptist churches in the South. I cannot indict all of them but this was my experience. It would not be my last.
I decided to become a minister when I turned 16. I wanted to make a difference in the world and change things in the area of racial injustice, gender inequality, and social/economic separation. You might say I felt called to be a prophet to my own Southern fundamentalist faith community. Little did I know that a prophet is without honor in his own community, and that prophets often get rejected and some times destroyed.
I went off to Bible college, seminary and even completed an earned doctorate. I pastored fundamentalist Baptist churches both Southern and independent for 11 years. I was shocked to find such a high degree racism and segregation so entrenched in some of these Southern “Bible believing” churches that I pastored. I found out after we left one particularly difficult church that several of my key leaders had been involved in the KKK at one point in their lives. One of these men had threatened me on occasions that I would get into big trouble if I kept letting “niggers” come to the church. He said, “Preacher, if you want to mix with niggers you need to take your wife, get in a car and head back to Virginia.” I will share more of these stories in future blogs and my upcoming ebook, but let it suffice to say that some of these men proudly displayed the Confederate flag either as bumper stickers on their vehicles or the “Stars and Bars” flew from their front porches.
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I love being a Southerner and I am proud to be a native born son of the South. Even Martin Luther King, Jr. loved his home, the South lands and considered himself a son of the South. There are better ways to honor our Southern heritage than displaying the Confederate flag on state buildings and our state flags and ignoring the fact that the Civil War had nothing to do with defense of the brutal oppression of blacks and the perpetuation of their enslavement. I think all true Southerners, both black and white need to begin a discussion on what makes the South a unique place and what are the good values, traditions, and practices along with our redemptive analogies and symbols in our history that all of us can be proud of no matter what color we are. Can you think of any? I would love to hear from you on this one. Please check back in to read my upcoming posts about the common and best elements of EVERY Southerner’s heritage.
Below are two discussions I would like to share with you. One is a Facebook post from a black farmer from Virginia. He is the owner of Sylvanaqua Farms. Check out his website. (This was a FB post and not a blog entry) He shares how he felt when he went to by hens from another farmer and saw the Confederate flag flying on the porch as he pulled in the driveway. This is an outstanding post.
Also, here is the link to an excellent blog post on the Confederate flag by a Southern evangelical pastor by the name of Perry Noble. He comes from a place that many Southern conservative evangelicals can relate to concerning the racial issue in the church. Why I Changed My Mind About The Confederate Flag
Today I drove out to Orange to pick up some new hens. When I got to the designated address, I was greeted by the rebel flag. Normally I leave politics out of my posts here, but this might offer some insight into what it’s like to be a black farmer, and why there are so few of us.
There’s a very good possibility that the folks living under this flag don’t have a racist, prejudiced bone in their bodies. For them, the stars and bars represents bluegrass, big-ass trucks, bourbon, old barns, bobwhite hunting, and some cool facets of southern life that don’t begin with the letter B. Look at their Facebook profiles, and you might even see them in the company of a lot more brown folks than you’ll find in the overwhelmingly White social circles of supposedly progressive people that wax indignant about the flag.
Unfortunately, I’ll never find out. Why? Because there’s an equally good possibility that the folks living under this flag are among the thousands you can find, right this minute, on the forums at stormfront.org advocating violence against Black people from behind Confederate flag avatars.
If I knock on the door, Paula Deen might answer. She’ll feed me biscuits, call me ‘yall’ even though I’m alone, invite me to her next cookout, and hopefully have the good sense to leave me out of any plantation-themed weddings.
But if I knock on the door, Dylan Roof might answer. He’ll stick a gun in my face, sick his dog on me, club me with a blunt object, or otherwise precipitate a sequence of events that will leave one or both of us dead, blind, or crippled.
As a person of color, I have to make a judgment call about what the rebel flag means to the person flying it. Does it mean “heritage, not hate” or “heritage of hate?” Giving you the benefit of the doubt means I have to risk my wife becoming a 29 year old widowed single mother… so no thanks. Which is really too bad, because this really gets in the way of good business when you’re a Black farmer and so many of your would-be associates insist on flying the damned thing instead of doing what we southerners are supposedly best at: not being rude and inconsiderate.