Open minds lead to understanding among religions

By Angela Abbamonte

The headline on the “Washington Post” Web site declared it all: “‘God gap’ impedes U.S. foreign policy, task force says.”

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs released a report indicating American foreign policy has narrow-minded views concerning religious groups, handicapping foreign efforts.

I have spent some time researching different religions in order to be a more accurate reporter. Religion is a major part of life, and not everyone believes what I believe. Unfortunately, ignorance can cause harm and incite hatred, especially in a religious context.

I am one of the youngest people who remembers Sept. 11, 2001. It was a horrifying day, especially for a 12-year-old with family in New York. Since then, many people cast their hatred toward Muslims without taking the time to get to know the religion or individuals who follow it.

I am not saying I accept what people of other faiths believe in order to be open-minded. I believe the Bible is clear that those who do not put their faith in Christ will spend eternity separated from him, but I do not think that means we cannot strive to understand them.

While in Washington, D.C., I had the opportunity to get to know Angela Blake, a student in another off-campus study group.

Angela has a heart for the Muslim community and is not afraid to get to know them without hitting them over the head with a Bible.

One night we all gathered our cameras and went out to try to get a glimpse of President Obama, who was giving a speech to Congress.

As we were waiting, Angela started talking to a couple from the Middle East. Her cheery disposition set them at ease and she was able to have a good conversation with them. After we saw the president’s motorcade leave, Angela exchanged numbers with the couple and started telling the rest of us how excited she was about her new friends.

A few weeks later Angela got a call. It was the end of Ramadan and the Muslim couple wanted to share their feast with her. Some people in our program were concerned they were going to kidnap her and she was going to be transported to Taliban headquarters for ransom. Others tried to give Angela Bibles and witnessing tips on how to convert the couple.

Angela had a different plan. She brought a friend and they went to dinner. She talked about her faith but she also asked questions about Islam. She was a friend to them, and I hope that when they think of Christianity they think of her friendship. Maybe someday other Christians will befriend them and friendships will lead to deeper discussions about Christianity.

I do not advocate getting in the car with strangers for their feast just to make friends, and I am glad she took someone else with her. But I admire her passion for understanding people of another religion and her willingness to listen to them instead of being an all-knowing Christian who simply tells them, “You are going to hell.”

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, similar to Angela’s philosophy, said they see the importance of understanding people who are not like us. I know understanding Islam will not necessarily stop extremists from hurting others for the sake of Allah. However, understanding how people think and what they believe will benefit communication and relations, whether they are foreign relations or relationships with the neighbors down the street.

Associating an entire religion with extremists is dangerous and impedes our relations with major groups of people. I do not want to tell people I am a Christian and be immediately associated with Westboro Baptist who picket funerals of soldiers with signs that say, “God Hates the USA.” Do you?

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The Cardinal & Cream is a student publication of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Our staff ranges from freshmen to seniors and includes a variety of majors — including journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, digital media studies, graphic design and art majors.