Visiting the Mosque for Jumu’ah


I was the passenger guest who traveled with a couple. After parking, we approached the house of prayer. He mentioned that it was odd … visiting a mosque … knowing that in the US, four mosques were recently bombed.

Even before replying to this brother’s remark, I saw police_K9the police vehicle. It was a ‘K-9’ unit.

There was no question in my mind as to why that particular unit was there. K-9 units are not used to direct traffic. While many worshipers did attend for the day of Jumu’ah [Friday noon prayer], that ‘K-9 unit’ was there as a precautionary measure should explosive materials be brought to the area.

The one time the place where I prayed was deemed a potential target for attack happened the day I was at a mosque. I reflected on the irony that such an attack might be executed in the name of ‘Christian’ faith.

Our group consisted of five women and six men, one of which is an Cleveland Grand MosqueEpiscopal priest. The women took their entrance; I and the other men followed the Rector into the men’s entrance. We left our shoes in the designated area and entered a large, attractive room furnished with thick carpet. Chairs were also available.

In the men’s area, we sat on the carpet. I was not long there when my back began explaining that I would soon regret deeply the punishment I was heaping on it.

CLE Grand Mosque

A warm voice behind my ear invited me to take a chair against the back wall. I turned to see a older gentleman [meaning about my age]. He said that my position is very uncomfortable, especially for those who are not used to it. I didn’t argue.

This kindly, soft-spoken man is from Damascus. He came to the US years ago. Eventually, he tired of people telling him that he should go home. So he did. When civil war came there, he returned to the US. He said that he has no where else in the world to go. I thanked him for coming to the US. He expressed gratitude for my attending Friday noon prayers.

Then came the Adhan [call to prayer]. All talking stopped. An atmosphere of respect settled at once. No forgiveness need be sought for being moved by the melody of haunting sorrow and soulful hope of a well-sung Adhan. It is arresting. The focus of all present was fixed on the call to prayer.

The Address:

In Arabic and then in English, the Imam [the scholar/guy upfront] warned against three, soul-corrosive sins that faithful Muslims will avoid. These are the sins of greed, self-will and arrogance. As grounds for proper pride, the preacher upheld the accomplishments of hard labor and diligent study. But any presumptive pride or supposed superiority whether based on color or race or nationality or ethnicity or education or wealth — all that the preacher held in complete disdain.

The Imam said that the practice of peace was not only for those who are ‘like us’ but for all peoples. He commended his listeners to the practice of alms-giving and justice as conditions needed for peace and community.

Some words were directed to youth, who were reminded that God sees and knows all things, including the use of modern technological devices and apps, as well as our thoughts and deeds in private.

It occurred to me that if anything said seemed unfamiliar to Christians, it’s unlikely they’ve spent much time in church lately.

After closing prayers, my friend from Damascus again thanked me for my presence there. People began making their way back into the world.

Few present were ‘well-dressed,’ though mid-Eastern or African clothing was not uncommon. One very articulate man was impeccably dressed in western clothing. He asked if I was a visitor or from a church group. I said that I was part of an Episcopal group. With great sincerity, he expressed deep gratitude for my presence. While retaining his composure, his eyes eyes and quiet manner pleaded with me to return. I learned later that he spoke similarly with other men in our group.

Outside, we met with the women. Their experience was remarkable. They were thanked repeatedly for joining the gathering for prayer. They were showed around the facility. One woman shared her cell number should any of the visitors later think of questions they’d like to ask.

Reflections on the Gathering for Prayer:

Our group returned to the Episcopal church. Some were able to follow the Rector to a local coffee shop to discuss the experience. I was among them.

The Rector deeply respects Islam and has studied it for years. He saw a few rolled eyes and knows the reasons for it. I didn’t, but in today’s climate, what would one expect? He explained that at a time when their community is vulnerable, politically astute Muslims much desire Christian attendance. They want non-Muslims to know that far from being political extremists, they are normal people who lead normal lives. I recalled my friend from Damascus and the well-dressed gentleman near the main door. I understood. And yes, ‘normal’ that is what we saw and heard.

What we heard are staples in many sermons. The emphases of peace and the universality of the message of peace were more progressive than what one expects in many an Independent Fundamental Baptist sects, where flag-waving and national chauvinism set the order for the day.

For me, grace did not figure prominently in this message. I’m sure that the Imam would affirm that Allah is merciful. But the directive to give alms for the needy seemed to be the extent of the discussion of grace. That is, unless one regards God’s message of peace as a gift of grace. But again, I could not help but think of how many graceless sermons I’ve heard. And I thought of the graceless discussions about grace in sermons I’ve heard.

Further Reflection

After outlining the thoughts I wanted to include here, I looked for a sung Azan to post as a sound file. As I did, I found an article by Hussein Rashid, adjunct professor of religion at Barnard College on the abuse of the Azan, the Islamic call to prayer. Professor Rashid writes:

‘Perhaps one of the most egregious abuses of Hollywood in its portrayals of Islam is the use of the azan, the call to prayer, as a soundtrack for violent acts. The call to prayer is a beautiful sound when it is performed well. Unfortunately, this part of Muslim beauty is used as the ambient sound for violence on TV, in movies and even on the radio.’

Reading that, I found myself astonished and incensed that a call to prayer would be associated with a philosophy directly counter to what I heard. Then Rashid’s article made this point:

‘That Muslims can be fully human, can feel and think in ways that resonate with other humans, is too foreign an idea for many of us.’

I wondered to what extent public attitudes toward our neighbors rests precisely on the failure or refusal to reckon with that fact. Then I reflected on the Imam’s words: we must not presume ourselves better than others because of who we are, our race, ethnicity, nationality, place of origin, etc.

Perhaps the real problem here is that this visiting Imam spoke more truth than American ears are accustomed to hearing.


On the Trump Presidency, by PTS Faculty


Confessions, creeds and catechisms have an interesting history. Of course in the Independent Fundamental Baptist movement, they have no history at all –unless IFBs draft said [s]creedal statements themselves.


‘No Creed but Christ,
No Book but the Bible,
No Law but Love.’

Yes, that is a ‘creed.’ Of sorts. But I find other statements more helpful.

The history of confessional statements is ‘interesting’ because they arise in times of controversy as the church sought clarity on issues of the day.

Somewhat in that tradition, some Princeton Theological Seminary faculty members recently prepared a statement. It is not a confession. It does not claim to be a confession. It lacks confessional stature. But it does claim to be a ‘Defense of Christian Faith.’

This document might be regarded as a contemporary testimony. It brings a sober and nuanced perspective on contemporary controversies, issues and questions related to public witness. Especially in the USA, the church needs to hear that perspective. I believe it can facilitate understanding of what the church is and is not to be about. And that would be a good thing.

This statement is reproduced with gratitude for the work and stand of PTS faculty members.

In Defense of Christian Faith and a Democratic Future

On the Trump Presidency: From Members of the Princeton Seminary Faculty 

February 24, 2017

[signers to this statement do not represent the Seminary or the faculty as a whole]

‘We, the undersigned, believe that because God is sovereign over all creation and because all human beings are embraced by God’s all encompassing grace, the god of Donald Trump’s “America first” nationalism is not the God revealed in our scriptures. Regardless of our specific political persuasions we agree that the attitudes fostered by this nationalism are inconsistent with Christian values of welcoming the stranger as if we were welcoming Christ, of seeking to distinguish truth from deception and conceit, and of believing that no institution or government can demand the kind of loyalty that belongs only to God.’

‘We also believe that the policies and approach embraced by the Trump administration run counter to democratic values, as executive orders and members of the new administration’s cabinet often seek to demonize Islam, foster white supremacy, compromise the rule of law and intimidate judges, undermine the empowerment of women, ignore the destruction of the environment, promote homophobia, unleash unfounded fears of crime that worsen the “law and order” abuses of police and security forces. We reject the pervasive aim of placing the monetary gain of wealthy classes over the welfare of its citizenry by undermining education, quality employment, and health care. We believe that Christian faith and US democracy are not the same thing; hence, we stand against the notion of a “Christian nation.” But as Christians who are also citizens or residents of the US, we stand against the attitudes and policies that are being fostered in this present political climate.’

‘As we look at the role of the US in promoting war and repression abroad and division among its own peoples at home, however, we confess our own complicity in the sinful entanglements that have created this political and social crisis. Not all of us have taken a firm and vocal enough stance against what Martin Luther King, Jr. called the “giant triplets” of violence in the United States: “racism, extreme materialism, and militarism.” We have often embraced academic elitism that overlooks the needs of the unemployed or the value of jobs that do not require higher education. We recognize a legacy of failure that marks past presidential administrations, and so harbor no nostalgia for the politics of the past. But we do not believe that Trump is a remedy for that legacy of failure. In Trump’s values and policies we see no public witness consistent with the Gospel or with the values of those who are believers in Jesus Christ and members of Christ’s church.’

‘We not only reject Trump’s values and policies, we also renew our commitment to a future where both the church and the academy will foster attitudes and actions so that human beings and the whole of creation can thrive. We join our hearts, our minds, our voices, and our actions with those of religious believers–Christians, Jews, Muslims, and people of all faiths, as well as with secular people of good conscience, to resist the present destructive politics in our country and to seek reversal of their destructive consequences here and around the world.’

Members of the Current Faculty

Afe Adogame, Maxwell M. Upson Professor of Christianity and Society
Eric D. Barreto, Frederick and Margaret L. Weyerhaeuser Associate Professor of New Testament
Raimundo Barreto, Assistant Professor of World Christianity
Clifton Black, Otto A. Piper Professor of Biblical Theology
Lisa Bowens, Assistant Professor of New Testament
John Bowlin, Robert L. Stuart Associate Professor of Philosophy and Christian Ethics
Michael Brothers, Associate Professor of Speech Communication in Ministry
Sally A. Brown, Elizabeth M. Engle Associate Professor of Preaching and Worship
Ellen Charry, Margaret W. Harmon Professor of Systematic Theology
Kenda Creasy Dean, Mary D. Synnott Professor of Youth, Church, and Culture
James C. Deming, Associate Professor of Modern European Church History
Heath Dewrell, Assistant Professor of Old Testament
F. W. Dobbs-Allsopp, Professor of Old Testament
Nancy J. Duff, Stephen Colwell Associate Professor of Theological Ethics
Gordon Graham, Henry Luce III Professor of Philosophy and the Arts
William Stacy Johnson, Arthur M. Adams Professor of Theology
Jacqueline Lapsley, Associate Professor of Old Testament and Director of the Center for Theology, Women, and Gender
Cleophus J. LaRue, Francis Landey Patton Professor of Homiletics
Bo Karen Lee, Associate Professor of Spiritual Theology and Christian Formation
Gerald Liu, Assistant Professor of Worship and Preaching
Bruce McCormack, Charles Hodge Professor of Systematic Theology, and Director of the Center for Barth Studies
Elsie McKee, Archibald Alexander Professor of Reformation Studies and the History of Worship
Kathleen McVey, Joseph Ross Stevenson Professor of Church History
Gordon Mikoski, Associate Professor of Christian Education
James H. Moorhead, Mary McIntosh Bridge Professor of American Church History
Dennis Olson, Professor of Old Testament
Richard Osmer, Ralph B. and Helen S. Ashenfelter Professor of Mission and Evangelism
Brian Rainey, Assistant Professor of Old Testament
Paul Rorem, Benjamin B. Warfield Professor of Medieval Church History
Mark S. Smith, Helena Professor of Old Testament Literature and Exegesis
Mark Lewis Taylor, Maxwell M. Upson Professor of Theology and Culture
Sonia Waters, Assistant Professor of Pastoral Theology
Richard Fox Young, Elmer K. and Ethel R. Timby Associate Professor of the History of Religions 


Richard S. Armstrong, Helen S. Ashenfelter Professor Emeritus of Ministry and Evangelism
Abigail Rian Evans, Professor Emerita of Practical Theology
Richard Fenn, Maxwell Upson Professor Emeritus of Christianity and Society
Beverly Roberts Gaventa, Helen H. P. Manson Professor Emerita of New Testament Exegesis
Darrell L. Guder, Henry Winters Luce Professor Emeritus of Missional and Ecumenical Theology
Geddes W. Hanson, Professor Emeritus of Congregational Ministry
Daniel L. Migliore, Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology
Patrick D. Miller, Charles T. Haley Professor Emeritus of Old Testament Theology
Peter J. Paris, Elmer G. Homrighausen Professor Emeritus of Christian Social Ethics
Luis N. Rivera-Pagán, Henry Winters Luce Professor Emeritus of Ecumenics
Katharine Doob Sakenfeld, Eisenberger Professor Emerita of Old Testament
J. Wentzel van Huyssteen, James I. McCord Professor Emeritus of Theology and Science Charles Converse West, Stephen Colwell Professor Emeritus of Christian Ethics 

Adjunct Faculty

Elizabeth Bloch-Smith, Old Testament
John Joon-Young Huh, Pasoral Counseling
Richard Lischer, Preaching
Michael Dean Morgan, Speech Communication in Ministry
Darryl W. Stephens, United Methodist Studies
Joyce MacKichan Walker, Presbyterian Polity
Ruth Workman, Spiritual Direction 

Citizen Intervention

Lawlessness, It's not just Ferguson

The double glass doors at the food store scraped open, revealing the scene.

She sat on the seat of her collapsible walker and she was not happy. Her walking-cane bounced off the concrete sidewalk repeatedly, betraying her agitation. In a raised voice, the elderly black woman explained that she was waiting for a cab and that she had not started the argument.

Equally loud and adamant, the young buck with a government paycheck and side arm insisted that she leave the premises. A middle-aged white woman was telling the young constable that a third woman initiated the loud incident by throwing money at the first, presumably implying that she was a social parasite who lived off others’ assistance.

But she received no attention. This wasn’t about her. It was about the elderly woman planted on her walker seat. She had waited three hours and no cab arrived. She had to leave the premises or be arrested. And she had to lower her voice or be arrested. And she had to stop threatening him with that cane, or be arrested.

He was no more threatened by her cane than he was my my cane, the judicious use of which restores enough mobility for me to shop for a few items. So what to do?

I pushed my cart between them and looking directly at neither said, ‘this gets deescalated now…’

‘Ma’am, do you need a way home?’
‘Come with me!’
‘You’ll drive me home?’
‘I’ll pay you.’
‘No, you won’t!’

That easily, it was done.

Still fuming, she explained the indignity of having money thrown at her.

She then pulled out a cell and called the cab company. She said ‘this is Angela, and I’m calling to cancel my ride.’ So that was that. She explained that she had to do that if she hoped to get future rides from that company. I wondered how a cab company stayed in business that made patrons wait for hours for a ride. I also wondered how Angela was supposed to catch her cab when it did arrive if she wasn’t at the location she called in to the company. I wondered why the young buck couldn’t grasp that dilemma.

I also wondered why this constable felt attacked by an elderly lady in a walker seat, bouncing her walking cane off the sidewalk. I wondered why he was powerless to bring anything helpful to the situation. I wondered what it is about a sidearm and a government pay check which makes cops think they own the world. And I wondered how many times such incidents are multiplied across the land because no citizen intervenes.

With ever-increasing immunity from prosecution granted to police, with increased state reliance on police before mounting social unrest, there will no shortage of opportunities for citizen interventions. Yes, one may be charged for ‘interfering with official business.’ But as I told this elderly woman, we must all begin standing together and building community — on the streets and in the courts.

But I also know that the woman who threw the money at my passenger would find much sympathy in fundamentalist churches. They would speak strong support for the ‘law and order’ antics of the young buck who thinks that a sidearm and government pay check make him ruler of the world.

Likely, more than a few fundies would say that the old guy with the cane who defused the situation really did hinder good police work. Had this guy arrested her, I think I would have made myself a material witness and articulate in court the perspective that he as not threatened, and that he needlessly acerbated an easily remedied situation to the detriment of community police relations.

Every year, well over a thousand people are slain by police. Many of them are unarmed. More than a few of them have mental health issues. I have to wonder how many lives could be saved if people involved themselves in such situations as they unfold before our eyes.

Sad to say — professing Christians in fundamentalist sects often support the most backward, repressive, reactionary and corrupting practices today found in public life. Even as they proclaim, ‘God bless America,’ they are a blight and a scourge upon it. Far from being the answer to today’s ‘America,’ they are in large part the reason for it.

Remembering Edson Taft ‘Bill’ Lewis Jr.

I have lost a dear, dear friend, colleague and brother.

A thousand, thousand thanks!

‘He was known at home and in the community as a man who loved mercy, sought justice and walked humbly with God. He was with Martin Luther King, Jr. at the “I Have A Dream” speech and the Selma-Montgomery March. He had a passion for bringing people together from all walks of life to make the world a better place.’

I remember him as one who helped me know myself simply by saying, ‘when you are cut, you bleed justice…’

I remember him as one who offered acceptance in Christ however radical my thinking turned.

I remember him as one with whom I confided things I have said to no other living person.

I remember him as one who could hear and bear graciously the accumulated frustration of a lifetime of living among Christians.

I remember him as one who answered complex dilemmas with clear, solid and gracious council.

I remember his ability to bring grace and perspective to salvage seemingly irredeemable situations.

I remember him swaying church bodies with sheer force of mind, knowledge of history and good order, and powers of vision and oration.

I remember the instant flash of his eyes and smile whenever I walked into a peer group meeting, and his arms outstretched to embrace me.

I remember him asking ‘what have you been reading lately,’ and being amazed to learn that he’d been there and suggesting further reading.

I remember his work with Pastors for Peace and his willingness to defy offical policies because they are unjust.

I remember his persistent insistence on justice, and his ability to retain hope for a world of peace and justice even as injustice seemed to prevail.

I remember his willingness to share heartbreak from his own family, and seeing how the loss of a brother shaped and deepened his love of justice.

Although I will miss Bill’s presence and titanic intellect, I find that his perspective and love of justice so informs my own spirit, it is as though he is still here and always will be. Knowing Bill as I have, and sharing our love of justice, I feel that his departure enriches and makes more real to me something that we call, ‘communion of the saints.’