By Rev Bob Roberts Jr.
One of the lessons I’ve learned in my life is that the biggest challenge we face when moving forward will not come from the “other” tribe but from your own. It was a Hindu like Ghandi, that assassinated Ghandi. When I began working around the world, initially I would have to overcome my fear of “the other.” Now, I fear my own tribe more than “the other.” At first, our church began to contemporize it’s style of worship – which meant when all the other churches of my tribe knew about it – it wasn’t met with enthusiasm as I expected but the opposite. Then we began to work in Vietnam – “What about all the vets who fought in the war – why do that?” It was an ex-vet that pushed us to go there – that helped. Now, it’s about me supporting Muslims and justice issues in the middle-east. This has been the toughest yet – but I believe the earlier issues, prepared me for this.
1. Those inside a tribe have more influence on a tribe than those outside a tribe. This is why it’s critical for those inside a tribe to speak out when there is an issue of justice in regard to another tribe. I can’t change a Muslim’s perception that easily of the West – I can change the perceptions of my own tribe towards the middle-east. I am currently mentoring eight prominent young pastors – each with congregations of thousands. In a small group, these influencers are learning some different views and able to talk to people one on one. Some have written books and already from what they’ve experienced – they regret things they’ve written in their books. Because I pastor a church of thousands and I’m in their tribe – evangelical – and they know I believe the Bible and who Jesus Christ is, they trust me. I can use that trust to feather my nest – or use it to build a better world. I’ve also exposed them to people that are Muslims that can articulate what I’m also saying. Not long ago I took the young pastors to one of the leaders of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and he told the group of pastors “I love America – people ask me why not move back to the Middle-East or somewhere else where the majority are Muslims? I tell them, because America is the model. It’s the model for how religions can work together. It’s the model for where I want my daughters growing up and working…”
2. God always uses “prophets” to speak to the tribes. I’m not saying we today are the same as the Biblical and Quranic prophets, but we are the same when we speak out against wrong. It’s appropriate to challenge the whole of culture like Ghandi or Martin Luther King. In my tribe, we value growth and the size of the tribe and how many people want to listen to you. To get a lot of people in any group, you have to hear their voices, meet their needs, build momentum and enthusiasm. However, there are other times, when the tribe has to be challenged and people aren’t going to like what you say. I’ve learned that hype and enthusiasm may grow your own tribe, but truth and the confrontation of injustice in your own tribe will cost you. However, the greatest changes come not from hype, emotion, and mass frenzy, but from deep change based on truth. There are times when you have to stand up for what is right and sometimes people would rather ignore those things (like religious freedom for someone else’s tribe – the New York Muslim Community Center). In the Long road what matters and what history remembers is doing right and what changes a society is doing right more than even church activities for your own tribe. Courageous action and standing against the tide in a loving and just way is what changes the world, not popular pontificating and pandering to the masses. At the heart of it is the question, “Do I want to see justice brought and a peaceful world – or do I want a big following.” Sometimes you get both – but you have to die to get that following! In America few would dare speak against Martin Luther King, Jr. today.
3. We all want to be respected and valued in our tribe – even the Nyon tribe – so when we take a position that is opposite or challenge the majority we need to emotionally prepare ourselves. Intellectually, we read, we talk, we study so we can be sure of our positions, modify them where we need to – sometimes even take a different tact with them. The real challenge is not the power of our message – but the strength of our character, our resolve, and the mastering of our emotions. Let’s be honest – it hurts to be rejected – especially form the very people we want to be endorsed by. When I wrote the article for the ON FAITH blog [http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/eboo_patel/2010/07/religious_freedom-_for_all.html#more <http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/eboo_patel/2010/07/religious_freedom-_for_all.html#more> – this is the link to the blog post, the article given above, where responses to Bob’s article were posted] – it didn’t bother me all the people who spoke negatively about me – I didn’t know them. There have been many articles lately in which I’ve received a lot of criticism and comments about what I believe that just aren’t true – but that doesn’t bother me, because I don’t know those people. What hurts, is when you see a comment or someone you respect writes something and slams you. Recently I was asked to comment on another pastor in Dallas who made very negative remarks about Islam – my response was, “I’m not going to respond to that man, instead here’s how we engage Muslims at our church and in our community….” We can’t get caught up in tit for tat childish arguing or we loose the opportunity.
4. Truth and sanity ultimately win out, but sadly not before a lot of people are hurt. I’ve had so many people, young pastors, and others email me, call, want to meet and the response is the same – “this isn’t right how we are handling all this stuff.” They are starting to come out. Someone has to move first to give courage for the others to begin to venture out. We had a multi-faith event where the largest mosque, second largest synagogue, and our church came together in January and we went to each others place of worship, Friday the synagogue, Saturday the mosque, and Sunday we all went to the church. It was considered radical for an evangelical to do that – last week alone I spoke with 5 pastors who are doing the same thing on their own in their cities from Seattle to Raliegh-Durham, North Carolina.
Here is what I know men and women, and what I have experienced – the greatest impact of Nyon – is not me getting you to agree with me and my tribe, but me understanding you and building a relationship with you. Our challenge will not be one of knowing the truth and how to act, our challenge will be one of challenging our tribes. That means, at least in this life, we may have to forgo the accolades of men – but that our sons and daughters can grow up with a different and better relationship than we have had with one another. God help us, and God forgive us when we lack the courage to do what is right because of fear – especially the fear of our own tribe.