Deacon Ian Punnett –
Two, separate interfaith conversations intersected in my email last month when two
different friends sent me links to stories about Christians and Muslims. I thought I would share
the nexus of these inquiries.
One was the report of how Kenyan Muslims protected Kenyan Christians during a recent
terrorist bus attack outside the northeastern Kenyan city of El Wak. The other was about a
Christian professor at an evangelical Christian college who was suspended for saying on her
Facebook page that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.
In the first news story, witnesses reported that al-Shabab Somali militants stopped the bus
and demanded that everybody get off and form two groups: Muslims and non-Muslims.
Everybody knew what this would mean because al-Shabab had done it before. As soon as the
Muslims were separated, all the non-Muslims would be executed unceremoniously. But only two
people were killed and the plan was thwarted when the Muslims on the bus refused to cooperate.
“These Muslims sent a very important message of the unity of purpose, that we are all Kenyans
and that we are not separated by religion,” Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery said. Indeed they
did. Were that always true.
In the second story, an editor I know who runs a website that deals in religious issues
asked for my response to the Christian professor’s claim that Muslims and Christians worship the
same God. I thought the question was preposterous.
I told him, “I’m a monotheist, so there is only one God. If I were a polytheist, I could
accept the proposition that there are other gods to worship. So, there is only one Divine—no
controversy for me—but one God that gets worshipped in different ways. Abrahamic faiths are
all ‘People of the Book,’ the expressions are just different.”
In fact, so great is God, so mysterious is the Divine, I believe, that no religion has a
symmetrical understanding of what God is—only glimpses. We call those glimpses religions and
denominations and sects. I have faith in Jesus’ words, “My Father’s house has many rooms”
(John 14:2). We can only do our feeble best to be worthy of one of those rooms. That’s
why theology means, “words about God.” Not being Divine ourselves, that’s all any of us are
capable of, “words about God.”
But this editor friend was shocked and he seemed to accuse me of not standing up for
religious orthodoxy that says there is only one way into heaven.
I replied, “I’m suspicious of faith when it is used as a power claim. Prophets come to
reverse the table order, to warn the people that believed they would be the first into heaven that
they would be last and encourage those that were told they were last that they shall be first. If I,
as a person of faith, am telling somebody else that I am further up the line to get into heaven than
they are, where does that put me? In the back of the line. I’ve got enough problems as it is.”
They never replied to that explanation. But I will.
Every day I try to walk the line between being proud of my Prophet and humble in my
service to him. I try to love my enemies, avoid legalistic thinking, and never forget that God has
dominion over the Earth, I don’t. As witnessed by the terrorist bus attack, there is a big
difference between taking a bullet in the name of faith, and shooting a bullet in the name of
faith. And in the case of the Christian professor suspended indefinitely for believing there is only
one God for us all, the New Year’s lesson is that militant Muslims are not the only ones trying to