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Building a bridge through faith
Burning Quran goes beyond politics; it's about where Christianity is headed
0912Terry Walton
The Rev. Terry E. Walton

I wonder what our world would look like if we spent more time building bridges than building walls.

Our human race seems to have this propensity to build walls. You are not like me politically, theologically, socially; therefore, I will build a wall and keep you out of my life relationally.

You look different than I do. My skin is lighter. My weight is thinner. My accent is different.

Therefore, I will build a wall and reduce the possibility that I may need to relate with you. Why are we such accomplished wall builders and underskilled bridge builders?

I am an eternal optimist (most of the time). I believe we can be better bridge builders than we are presently. I know we can.

But then the moment comes when I think we are about to build a bridge and get to the other side of our prejudice and our negative divisions when racial slur graffiti shows up in a Gainesville business complex parking lot.

Just when I think we are about to bridge over to a better side, a pastor in Gainesville, Fla., decided that he would lead his church in the burning of a Quran as a statement that all Muslims and their faith are worthless and hopeless. Just when I hope we are about to build a bridge, we build a wall.

As a Christian, I am often proud of the Gospel of love, mercy and grace that was lived, taught and died for by Jesus of Nazareth. I am forever seeking to learn how to live more like one who can "do unto others as they would have them do unto them." I regularly pray that God would help me to "love my neighbor as myself." And I diligently seek to get to the place where I can genuinely "love my enemies."

It is a journey for me and I don't always arrive at the places in my life that I desire. But the standard is set that the way of love and acceptance is the way of peace and joy. Jesus lived that way before humanity. Jesus was a bridge builder to the sinners and the outcasts.

Jesus was a bridge builder to the weak and the strong. Jesus even sought to build a bridge to the religious leaders of his time.

And while I am proud to be a Christian, I am often embarrassed to be a Christian. At times, the things that are said and done in the name of Christ are astounding to me. During the Holy Wars thousands, if not millions of people, were killed in the name of Christ.

But let's not go back that far in history. The swastika of 20th century Germany was a cross and thus a rally for anti-Semitism in the name of Christ. Walls were built and innocent people were killed — all for the cause and case of a narrow view of religion.

But let's not just pick on others. Some of the meanest folks I've ever known are people of the Christian faith (so they say). The most divided institutions on earth can be the church.

We don't get our way about the color of the new carpet in the sanctuary. Or we don't like the changes a new staff person is proposing. Or we are disappointed that a friend didn't vote our way on a church budget issue. We don't like the new style of music. We don't like the old style of liturgy.

And what do we do? We build a wall instead of a bridge. Why? Because we are better at building walls. We've gotten into a rhythm of building walls. They stack easier than bridges and protect our comfort zones. We can only let those in who agree with us when we build walls.

Walls are safer. Bridges can lead us to places unknown and who knows what we might have to encounter.

I believe that the opposite of faith is not doubt. The opposite of faith is fear. And I am afraid that we have become professional "fear mongers" in this world of ours. Why are we so afraid of our Muslim brothers and sisters? I suspect they have some truth that may be worth the Christian learning.

A devout Muslim worships circles around the average Christian worshipper. Their prayer life is to be commended. What if we built a bridge of mutual respect instead of fear-based attack between Christians and Muslims? We have taken what the extremists have done in the name of Islam and have lumped all Muslims into the same wicker basket.

And yet look at us. In the name of Christianity, we have slaughtered and maimed and burned for centuries. What if we all built bridges of relationships that go both ways between our faiths? Isn't that more exciting and hopeful than walls of hatred and so called "righteous indignation?"

In my travels across this world, there is one thing that is very apparent to me. Children cry in every language. Mothers love in every language. If we could somehow return to the basic fiber of our humanity — love — I think this world would be a much better place.

We don't need to be burning books, holy or not. We don't need to be casting stones. We don't need to point out the speck in our neighbors' eye when there could very well be a log in our own eye.

It is time for people of faith to understand that God is love. What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It really is the only thing that there is just too little of.

So let's get busy building bridges. There is an adventure of human peace and hope just on the other side. Let's be people of unity not division. And please note unity is a different word than uniformity.

Just as a beautiful rainbow graces the sky when sun and rain mix, so does the diversity of humanity grace this earth when love and peace mix in relationships across the world.

I'm for knocking down walls and building bridges. How about you?

The Rev. Terry E. Walton is the senior pastor at First United Methodist Church in Gainesville.