Daring Greatly through mission... with the courage to follow Jesus
Andy Williams writes:
Daring greatly, the courage to follow Jesus by working to transform violent extremism through inter faith relating
“We refuse to be enemies, Spread Hummus not Hate”. They were mainly students who stood behind the two banners bearing these slogans. They were from all faiths, nations and cultures and had come together to express their unity and commitment to live together in peace. They had indeed ‘spread hummus’ on their pitta bread lunch as they listened to representatives from different student faith societies speak of their commitment to unity and peace. This event was in Manchester and was part of a global faith twinning scheme, supported locally by the faith network I work with. There were about forty students present and there was a great atmosphere. Reflecting on it, it would be easy to conclude, “it was nice, but it won’t change the world”… and yet… and yet such an event felt like a radical alternative to the fracturing world reported daily in the news at the time in December 2015.
Violent extremism is now arguably the greatest threat to people across the world. It includes terrorism and violent acts, which could seemingly be committed anywhere and anytime, as the recent attacks in Paris and Beirut at the end of last year show. What does it mean to follow Jesus in this context?
Seeking to achieve religious and/or political ambitions through violence is nothing new. The Zealot movement was active in the time of Jesus. They wanted to liberate Israel from Roman occupation. We’re told that Simon was a Zealot (Mark 3: 18-19), though some modern translations use other terms. What was the relationship of Jesus to this movement? One of the motives of Judas for betraying Jesus was perhaps his disappointment and anger that Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God in word and deed did not embrace violent extremism as a means for establishing the rule and way of God, or more particularly overthrowing the Roman occupation. Jesus rejected the option of violent extremism and faced violence with self sacrifice. So what might it mean to dare greatly and have the courage to follow Jesus in the context of violent extremism today? Here are some initial thoughts:
To be incarnational in our discipleship, resisting the temptation to withdraw from and actively engaging with, the complexity of the world.
To reject and challenge violent extremism from any quarter.
To assert the equality of all human life as ‘made in the image of God’ and that to destroy human life is always wrong. This may lead us not only to challenge violent extremism, but also government sanctioned bombing campaigns.
To advocate the centrality of the love of God for all, expressed in Christ.
To build relationships with people of all faiths and none, loving our neighbours, especially people in communities from which violent extremists have been recruited.
To use language and promote the use of language that clearly distinguishes between faith/religion and violent extremism. In Manchester, our faith network, along with many others has adopted the term ‘Daesh’ in preference to ISIS/ IS/ ISIL/ Islamic State. As I understand it, Daesh is a pun on a pejorative Arabic term meaning ‘one who sows disunity’ and it is widely used by those opposed to the aims and agenda of this group. It has the benefit of distinguishing the group from Islam.
To opt for relating positively to the young, creating and supporting opportunities for inter faith encounters and relationships, in recognition of the vulnerability of the young to being groomed for violent extremism. These positive encounters and relationships hold out the opportunity to realise and develop a valuing of the other, breaking down stereotypes. I recognise there have to be ways to spot and respond to those who are groomed for violent extremism, but surely most of its prevention is about building a sense of belonging and valuing the richness of a diverse community.
For several years I chaired a project called Faith Friends which placed pairs of Christians and Muslims workers in secondary schools. As Faith Friends they were a bit like chaplains, available to and working with the young people, but usually together as a pair. I was involved in recruiting both Christians and Muslims to serve as Faith Friends and as Chair of the project I expected that one day I would have to respond to a dispute between a pair of Faith Friends. However, that day never came. Whatever tensions there may have been about a Christian and a Muslim working together, each pair was able to work them out. By contrast they all learned much, became firm friends, as well as colleagues and enjoyed working together, as they still do.
So how about it? In a world that seems to be more complex and dangerous, will we resist retreating into our churches and follow Jesus in the complexity and messiness of the world? Courage is needed to dare greatly, to follow Jesus by working to transform violent extremism through inter faith relating.
Andy Williams is married, has two adult daughters, and reluctantly shares his home with a dog and two cats. Ordained in 1990 he has served as the minister of two churches and has been at Sion Baptist Church (SBC) in Burnley since 1998. He is a founding member of the inter faith project Building Bridges in Burnley. In 2013 he became the half-time Community Development Worker of Faith Network for Manchester and continues as joint minister (half time) of SBC. He is the moderator of the Baptist Inter Faith Working Group.