November 21, 2007

Hyde Park Baptists eyes do not see the Glory

Speaking inclusiveness to intolerance, the 23rd Annual Austin Area Interreligious Ministries’ Interfaith Thanksgiving Celebration went off spectacularly at Congregation Beth Israel. Leaders of the temple had offered the group a safe haven after Hyde Park Baptist reneged on a promise to AAIM for use of the church property named the Quarries because the gathering included Muslims. Yeah, you heard right.

First, major props to the Jewish community who stepped up by offering their temple in quick fashion to save what has evolved into one of Austin’s most significant religious events.

Though Hyde Park Baptist caused the upheaval, their decision to ban the ceremony on their property and subsequent publicity caused attendance to swell to 3 to 4 times the normal size. Over 1000 people packed the standing-room-only temple, foyers, hallways, and side rooms to pay respect to a ceremony that brings a message of peace and harmony to all persuasions.

The most enduring moment came at sundown when Muslims prayed the Maghrib in the synagogue.

After 9/11, many Muslims living in this country retreated into obscurity. As happened in many neighborhoods, Muslim families moved from mine, and I rarely encountered others in the past six years. So it was encouraging to see so many gathered in fellowship with other religions.

Sentiment from some people who attended the event sympathized for the vast majority of the church’s members who were probably embarrassed by the decision of a few. Some wondered why the evangelical church would open itself to such negative publicity.

A good number of Democratic office-holders and candidates were present. I asked Dan Grant, who is a Dem candidate for Congress, Texas District 10, for his thoughts about the celebration. He said the ceremony reminded him of the time he was in Afghanistan, and a village leader on hearing that American soldiers were looking for a place to celebrate Christmas offered up the local mosque.

Here’s my unsolicited advice to the church – if you really want to evangelize in Christ’s name, purge your leadership and replace with rational people who make decisions by wisdom and not some warped ideology. It would come as no surprise to find that the decision to withdraw their support at the last minute was hatched long ago as a deliberate and without remorse statement from a far right-wing faction within the church who have moronic misinterpretations and fantasies about caliphates and the “war on terror.” Even though a small core will coalesce around the current decision-makers and declare a stronger faith, their reputation has been wrecked and their influence will wane because of the perceived bigotry of the entire congregation.

The church has the right to their decision, but when they ask the community to be tolerant and understanding of their beliefs, then that is when they need to be called out. There is no reason to be tolerant of intolerance and bigotry. If you dig a little deeper, you might find sexism, homophobia, and racism.

Posted by Captain Kroc at November 21, 2007 02:10 PM

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