American Muslims Help Rebuild Churches

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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.

American Muslims Rebuild Black Churches

American Muslims Show Great Love To Christians

Justice Racial Reconciliation Restorative Justice

The Confederate Flag: Heritage or Hate?

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I Was A Confederate Flag Loving Southern Boy

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.

* * * *

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.

* * * *

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.

* * * *

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 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.

End rant.

Sylvanaqua Farms's photo.
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No Bombs Went Off Today – 9/11/2011


It is hard to believe that it has been ten years since the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon building in Washington D.C.  I remember where I was that day, and I am sure you do also.  I was in Virginia at my mother-in-law’s house.  I got up to the news that morning that the WTC had been attacked by terrorists.  It was like a dream or a frightening science fiction movie — the kind I am talking about where the aliens blow up the Capital building or the White House only this time it was real.  I remember sitting in front of the television for six hours.  Time had stopped for me and my wife Sheila.  We cried at times, and for the days and weeks afterwards we grieved with the rest of the nation.  I remember we opened up our church for special times of prayer to the public and to anyone who just wanted to come and pray together for our national loss.  It was one of the darkest moments in our nation’s history.

It did not take long to identify the perpetrators of this horrific crime.  The media named  a group unknown to most of us called Al Qadea led by a notorious leader named Oussama Ben Laden.  This man who was responsible for the deaths of 3,000 Americans proudly declared himself to be Sunni Muslim.  My hatred and resentment for Muslims, and especially Arab Muslims, only increased and expanded as the details became clear that it was an Arab and a Muslim who killed our people on our own soil.  I hated Muslims before 9/11 but I hated them even more after 9/11.  I was a committed Christian and full-time pastor of a church.  I claimed to love Jesus and challenged others to do so.  I taught his teachings in my sermons but some how instead of loving Muslims who I perceived to be my enemies and learned to hate them even though Jesus said we had to love our enemies.  I had forgotten the teachings of Jesus concerning loving our enemies in the same way Ben Laden and his followers had forgotten the teachings of the Qur’an concerning killing innocent people.

In 2005 God completely changed my heart towards Muslims after I encountered a five year old Muslim boy in a Starbucks one evening.  His name was Omar.  I am convinced it was an encounter planned by God.  God used little Omar to soften my heart.  God took all the prejudice and hatred towards Muslims out of my heart and replaced it with His own special divine love.  The love that God gave me for Muslims has never waned.  You can read the full story of my encounter with Omar at the following link:

There are many in this country who are like me before I met Omar.  They are filled with fear and anxieties concerning the Muslims who live near them.  Some are consumed by rabid nationalism that says, “Never Forget!”  Others romanticize two wars that have put our nation in severe debt and that make all Muslims the scapegoats and targets of hate crimes and revenge.  There are many leading national voices who are making big bucks vilifying Muslims,  yet they offer no viable solutions to the rivalry, hostility and violence that have marked our world since 9/11.  They have no solutions but military solutions because they are consumed with fear.  But, history teaches us that fear but has no lasting or redemptive solutions to healing hate, violence and prejudice.  Fear brings torments to everyone it consumes but perfect or mature love casts out all fear.

On 9/11/2010 Muslims, Christians and Jews in Raleigh, North Carolina chose to reject fear and embrace love towards each other.  They came together to build a Habitat Home.  The project was called Abraham Builds.  It was a success and the media took notice of it.  This was a historic occasion in our city.  Nothing of this magnitude had happened before.  Many individuals in these three faith traditions decided that dialogue was just not enough and friendship was essential if we were going to change the world.  When you partner together to build something for the poor and the marginalized it is hard to hate.  We begin to see each other as human beings and good neighbors.  We cannot love what we fear and it becomes easy to love when you take the radical step to work for the common good of all and to love your neighbor as yourself.  When Jews, Christians and Muslims do this together then friendship is inevitable.  We learn to love the other and then we can change the world one person at a time.  It is hard to believe I hated Muslims five years ago but on 9/11/2010 my heart was in a new and sacred place with approximately 150 Muslims, Christians and Jews who were coming together to pledge to build a home for the poor together.  It was a beautiful day and I did not want to leave or see it end.  The pleasure of God was all over the gathering.  His kingdom of love, his new order of mercy and forgiveness and his dream for the world came together that day on that plot of land where a new home was going to be built.  Young people were everywhere.  Old and young wrote blessings and prayers on the wood beams that would become support structures for this house.  It was one of the happiest days of my life.  Here is a news clip of that event:–promote-unity

I believe people are tired of war and of being afraid.  They are looking for a good reason to have hope.  Al Qadea is losing the hearts and minds of people around the world.  Ben Laden’s deepest sadness was the fact that the overwhelming majority of Muslims around the world, rejected his self-proclaimed jihad.  There is still great evil in the world, but something is changing and it is something good.  If we will look for the God of mercy, love and justice in this goodness and partner together with him, then all of us will find mercy.  Where there is mercy, goodness, justice and compassion taking place then rest assured you have found a place where God is working and moving.

Suppertime was wonderful on 9/11/2010.  I bowed my head in prayer with my wife and daughter and thanked God for the way he brought the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian communities together in our city to work with him to help a poor family.  I also thanked him that no bombs went off today in America.




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