A few week’s ago, on the eve of what was anticipated to be a time of conflict and hostility in Melton, one of Melbourne’s western suburbs, the Director of Mission and Ministries for the Baptist Union of Victoria, the Rev Daniel Bullock, sent out a letter to Baptist church leaders inviting them to pray for fellow Baptists in the Melton area. Such a letter was both timely and appropriate.
However, my colleague Terry Falla and I felt that more could have – and ought to have – been said in that letter, and so we sent a brief response to Daniel and to the BUV’s communications department to that effect, hoping that they might be able to find a place to make it public. Unfortunately, Victorian Baptists – Baptists of all people! – have effectively abolished any such avenue for public discourse and discernment. Neither our denominational blog, nor our assemblies (or ‘Gatherings’ as they are now called), nor any other places of which I am aware, offer such opportunities to occur in any meaningful ways. The reasons for this are complex, and do not, as far as I have been able to discern, reflect the desires of either Daniel himself or of the BUV’s communications department. Given this current reality, I have decided to share our letter here instead in the hope that it might encourage further reflection and discussion among my colleagues in ministry:
Your call for prayer for the churches of Melton (20/11/2015) was timely, for there is no doubt that, as incredible as it seems, religious liberty for some minorities in Australia is now under threat. Your invitation has caused us a great deal of soul searching and has given rise to the conviction that, should another town or city be the object of anti-Muslim protests, we as Baptists include those under attack in our call for prayer and find ways of standing in solidarity with them in extremely distressing and stressful days. After all, it is not mostly us Christian churches at this time in our history that are the objects of fear, anger, resentment, and prejudice, but our Muslim sisters and brothers.
Our recommendation is twofold: (i) a call for prayer for those who are the target of discrimination, and (ii) that in our own local contexts some of us meet with Muslim leaders and other Muslims to express our concern for and solidarity with them; to gratefully and graciously receive whatever hospitality might be offered; to share with them how our own faith tradition was itself born of adversity and persecution, and values profoundly the principles of liberty of conscience and freedom of worship for all; and to commit to embark on the journey of learning to celebrate together what Jonathan Sacks calls ‘the dignity of difference’.
We encourage Victorian Baptists to embrace these challenging invitations with the fear-negating love, faith, hope, and courage that characterises followers of the crucified and risen Jesus.
We look forward to hearing from you.
In grace and peace,
Terry Falla & Jason Goroncy
Daniel’s response (published here with his permission) was both gracious and encouraging:
Dear Jason and Terry
Thanks for your correspondence to the Comms Team with proposed posting for our BUV Blog, expressing your concerns and recommendations around our recent call to prayer regarding the events expected in Melton.
We don’t actually have a forum for this type of posting on the website – neither BUV Blog, nor Baptists on Mission provide a forum for ‘letter to the editor’ type pieces. I do take on board your point though, that although we did ask people to pray for the churches, for safety and peace on the streets, and for those charged with maintaining law and order, we didn’t also include prayer for those who are the objects of fear, anger, resentment, and prejudice. This was an oversight, which we will be sure to address on any future occasion. I agree with the points you are making, it’s a helpful and instructive communication, so again, thank you.
Thanks for sharing these two letters, and especially for yours. Its second paragraph is wonderfully framed.
Uniting Church Sketty, Swansea has now had two replies to the letter we sent to our own local mosques in Swansea and signed by our minister (posted at Faith and Theology on November 21st). One was by post, the other by email. Here it is:
Dear Revd. Leslie Noon,
We hope and pray that this email reaches in you in the best of health and well being.
On behalf of the Muslim community of Swansea, I would like to thank for your beautiful letter of support. It was so pleasing for us having read your letter.
Though times have been hard for Muslims, there has been a lot of hope in humanity. We have received a number of messages of support and goodwill.
We were very pleased having received you letter of solidarity, especially one coming from a local community and church group was most welcomed.
I would like to take this opportunity to welcome further dialogue and closer relationship between our two communities. May we take this opportunity invite you and possibly members of your congregation to visit us at Swansea Mosque in the near future at an evening most convenient to you. We look forward to meeting you and introducing you to our community Imams and members.
We again thank you for your letter and we appreciate the message of solidarity. We pray that God brings all our hearts closer and closer to righteousness.
We hope to arrange a visit in the New Year.
Thanks again, Jason.
Shalom — and salaam
Walking in love. Good one.
Any great ideas you have about building a forum to discuss cabbages and kings – well, I’d love to know! The lack of real conversations across the BUV is a crying shame.