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Nation of Islam leader preaches Scripture to group of bishops

 


Nation of Islam leader preaches Scripture to group of bishops

May 4, 2005

By Tim Tanton*

WASHINGTON (UMNS)—A group of United Methodist bishops meeting with Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan say they received a strong affirmation of Jesus and set the stage for possible future dialogue.

"He preached," said Bishop Violet Fisher, who leads the denomination’s New York West Area. Farrakhan started with Genesis and preached all the way to Revelation, she said.

"The key to that is our obedience to God and living the word of Jesus Christ," Fisher said, summing up part of the Muslim cleric’s remarks to the group.

Fisher arranged the May 3 meeting after learning that Farrakhan and other Nation of Islam members were gathering at the same Washington hotel as the United Methodist Council of Bishops. The council is holding its spring meeting May 1-6 at the Sheraton National Hotel in Arlington, Va. A group of about a dozen bishops, as well as the Rev. Larry Pickens, top staff executive of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, met with Farrakhan and other Nation of Islam members in a private room in the hotel. The group was not an official council delegation.

The meeting lasted about an hour and 20 minutes, Pickens said. Most of the bishops at the meeting were African American or African, the exception being Bishop Susan Morrison, white, who leads the Albany (N.Y.) Area.

Farrakhan "was so excited to see the African bishops there," Fisher said afterward.

Fisher was impressed by Farrakhan’s "passion for living out the word." "Jesus to him is very much a part of our everyday life," she said.

Farrakhan noted to them that "Jesus is more than a prophet, which is what traditional Islam teaches," said Bishop Linda Lee, who leads the denomination’s Wisconsin Area. "He is the Messiah."

Bishop Forrest Stith said Farrakhan emphasized the Abrahamic origins of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. He told the United Methodists that they shared "one faith with many labels" and that those labels shouldn’t distract them from the one faith, Stith said.

As former ecumenical officer for the Council of Bishops, Bishop Melvin Talbert told Farrakhan that not only does the church believe in ecumenism, but through interfaith relations it understands God to be at work in people of other faiths as well.

Regarding possible dialogue between United Methodists and the Nation of Islam, Talbert said, "I think he is ready to do that if we are ready to do it."

"We leave the door open for future dialogue," Pickens said. He noted that directors of the Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns want to enter into dialogue with Muslims, and he is open to engaging the Nation of Islam. "I think that can be a significant conversation."

Farrakhan addressed concerns facing families and discussed issues of power and oppression in society, focusing particularly on African Americans because of the impact of power on them, Pickens said.

The Nation of Islam officials were meeting in Washington to plan the 10th anniversary of the Million Man March, and the bishops were interested in talking with him about the objectives of that event, Pickens said.

The anniversary will be commemorated as the Millions More Movement, Oct. 14-16, in Washington. Plans were announced May 2 in Washington, and the event’s Web site lists a diverse coalition of leaders involved, including Dorothy Height, a United Methodist and president emeritus of the National Council of Negro Women; Bishop Vashti McKenzie of the African Methodist Episcopal Church; Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP; the Rev. Jesse Jackson of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition; and the Rev. Al Sharpton, a 2004 Democratic presidential candidate.

Farrakhan later preached for nearly an hour on May 2 at Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church, according to the AME Church’s online publication of The Christian Recorder. McKenzie, the first woman elected bishop in the AME Church, also spoke.

Though Farrakhan has been controversial at times, bishops who met with him May 3 described him as positive during their conversation. Speaking afterward, Pickens stressed the importance of direct contact.

"I think you overcome fear and break down barriers and eradicate stereotypes by being in contact and conversation," Pickens said. "And the only way you can begin to address issues of differences or areas of disagreement is to have conversation."

*Tanton is managing editor for United Methodist News Service.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470.

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