NASHVILLE, Tenn. (ABP) — One thing Muslims and Baptists have in common is they are often identified by their extremists, according to a documentary airing on ABC television stations in January and February.
"Different Books, Common Word" offers an alternative message to both violence by Muslim terrorists around the world and demonizing of Islam by evangelicals in the United States.
The hour-long documentary produced by a Baptist organization in partnership with the Islamic Society of North America and the Interfaith Broadcasting Commission instead tells stories of individual Baptists and Muslims motivated to reach out to each other by the mandate of love for neighbor taught by both faiths.
The Baptist Center for Ethics, a free-standing partner organization of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, released the video under the imprimatur of its website, EthicsDaily.com.
"We hope the documentary provides positive narratives for relationships between Baptists and Muslims, narratives that begin to challenge the negative narratives that dominate American culture," said Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics, who co-produced the movie with EthicsDaily.com's managing editor and media producer Cliff Vaughn.
Shooting for the video began last January when Parham was invited to Boston for a meeting of about 80 Baptist and Muslim leaders from across the country to repair a relationship marred by comments from high-profile Baptist leaders portraying Islam as a religion of hate.
Filming lasted through June, featuring interviews with Baptists and Muslims interacting in unlikely places like Columbia, Tenn., where an Islamic Center was firebombed in 2008, and the Texas-Louisiana state line, where a Muslim businesswoman and African-American Baptist pastor worked together for hurricane relief.
"Viewers will be surprised to see new stories of respect and partnership that are emerging in the United States between goodwill Muslims and Baptists," said Parham, a former ethicist with the Southern Baptist Convention Christian Life Commission who founded the Nashville, Tenn.,-based Baptist Center for Ethics in 1991. "We hope these stories will begin to replace the negative ones about both Muslims and Baptists."
After 9/11, several high-profile Baptist preachers received media attention for comments harshly critical of Islam. Franklin Graham called it a "wicked" religion, Jerry Falwell said Muhammad was a terrorist and one former Southern Baptist Convention president labeled the prophet a "demon-possessed pedophile."
In 2007 Roy Medley, general secretary of American Baptist Churches USA visited Lebanon and the Republic of Georgia, and Muslim and Baptist leaders in both places urged him to seek to improve Baptist-Muslim relations in the U.S.
"We need to repair the damage done by Baptists who made hurtful statements about Muslims in the past," Medley was quoted saying in August 2007. "If you believe in religious liberty, you must respect other religions. The best way to witness to your own faith is through humility and service."
After reading those remarks, Sayyid Syeed of the Islamic Society of North America contacted Medley to discuss ways of creating dialogue between Muslims and Baptists. Representatives from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Alliance of Baptists joined American Baptists in a first round of discussions with Muslim leaders in January 2008, which led to the formal dialogue a year later.
EthicsDaily.com went to the gathering intending to produce its own DVD, but after filming got underway, the Interfaith Broadcasting Commission, formed in 1980 by four major faith groups representing 100 million adherents in the U.S. to produce religious content for three major television networks, suggested that the Islamic Society of North America, one of the members, sponsor its release through "Vision and Values," a series available to stations owned by and affiliated with ABC.
"Different Books, Common Word" is the sixth video produced by the BCE but the first aired on national television. Previous projects addressed topics including Baptist-Jewish relations, faith and politics and Baptists and race. The broadcast window began Jan. 3 and lasts through February. Local listings are here.
The program is also for sale for $25 on DVD. The DVD version includes special features and deleted scenes and comes with a study guide for use by groups.
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.