Extremism Mitigated Through Education

A few weeks ago I got the announcement there would be a class held at Father Dyer’s United Methodist Church in Breckenridge Colorado called “Islam in Turmoil.”

Of course, you all know how much time and energy I’ve been spending with youth from the Middle East, engaging in ways to develop long standing friendships between the Middle East and the West.

We’ve sponsored Middle East Christians, Middle East Muslims, Middle East Secularists all to come to America and meet young, emerging leaders in business, politics, and academia. We’ve also provided trips where students can go to the Middle East and engage with young people on the ground.

For almost a decade, I’ve been trying to figure out a way we can help educate the minds of the Middle East to understand Americans on the ground.  And, we’ve tried to help educate Americans to see Middle East young people as people, instead of just the soundbites we often hear concerning the Middle East on the news.

In any event, I saw the announcement for the class and decided to offer any insight I might have to help deepen the discussion.  Come to find out, this small mountain church has explored different faith traditions for years.

It seems like there’s a long standing tradition for this congregation to explore, understand, and study people.  They truly are interested in what people think, how they respond in different cultures, and how the people of Breckenridge might reach out to their friends and neighbors with a deeper understanding.

The class is loosely based on the “Great Classes” curriculum and uses the teachings of John Esposito, an Islamic Studies professor at Georgetown.

When I showed up to the first class, there were almost 65 people there to begin the discussion on Islam.  I was amazed at how interesting this group of people are.  Everyone seemed to be truly inquisitive.  They were interested in populations around the globe, the tenants of Islam, and probably most of the questions came when we took the plunge into politics.

It’s a great cross section of people, but the concerns were clear.

Most wonder why it seems there are so many Islamic extremists today.
Some are fearful of the American way of government, too weak to stand up to the ever present Sharia law conversation.
Some are interested in the role of women in Islam around the globe.
But all are willing to learn.

Last week we covered the 5 pillars, and the discussion was fascinating.

As I sat back and listened to the questions and subsequent comments on the side, I kept thinking, “This is the way to battle extremism.”  

When we know someone, and I mean truly know them, we have a difficult time wanting to go to war.  When we realize humanity is more common than we’ve ever thought, we have grace where there might have been a void.  When we understand basic human desires are shared around the globe, we can begin developing friends instead of enemies.

And when you introduce the radical teachings of Jesus–at least in my experience–I find people willing to listen to phrases like, “love your neighbor,” “love your enemy,”  and “do good to those who persecute you.”  

It’s almost like our culture has strayed so much away from the message Jesus came to teach that we’ve created a system of Us vs. Them, instead of living in a world where Jesus’ words are offered to all.

In any event, I’m glad to be a part of the class.  I’m happy to share my unique insight.  And I’m excited to explore with others the culture and tenants of Islam and the way we can start building more bridges between the West and Middle East.

Please pray for our time together, if you think about it.  There are some really great conversations emerging from this small, little mountain town church that could ultimately help change the world.

1 Comment

  1. Agreed Braner. The us vs. them mentality is concerning. I would enjoy attending the class with you Brother. Through Education seems to always be a good answer. Keep Love-in on!

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