Orlando to Ramadan: The Communication of Outreach

Orlando to Ramadan: The Communication of Outreach

June 22, 2016 by

I’m going to take a shot in the dark here and advance the bold statement that our world is changing is one of the few statements a person can make that will receive little or no pushback.

Regardless of your age, socioeconomic background or political leanings, I believe we can all look at what’s going on around us and admit that, in general, what we’ve grown accustomed to has changed dramatically and will continue to change as time goes on. Every generation in every century, every millennium has been able to say the same thing.

As society continues to change (whether you believe it’s for the better or for the worse), it will become increasingly important for we, the body of Christ, to learn how to communicate and live in peace and harmony with people who are not like us. For when we do so, we’ll be able to show the love of Jesus and advance the gospel in every situation, positive or negative.

As society changes, it’s important we learn how to communicate and live in peace with people who are not like us.

Two events that have taken place in the month of June 2016, one you’re certainly familiar with and the other most likely not, should force us to ask some serious questions about whether or not we’re ready, willing or even able to extend the love of Jesus outside of our own circle.

The Orlando Shooting

America woke up Sunday morning June 12, 2016 to the horrifying news of 50 people shot and killed and 53 others wounded at an Orlando nightclub early that morning.

Just these details alone made this a national tragedy for which people all over the country, if not the world, were offering thoughts and prayers, even politicians. But quickly perusing the #thoughtsandprayers hashtag on Twitter, such sentiments were sparking more than thoughts and prayers.

Unfortunately, as more details emerged about the location and the shooter, the sentiments grew nastier and more divided by the day. You could pick your topic: religion, gun control, LGBT rights, racism, immigration and more.

As some of these facts were revealed and debates sparked, some conversations, especially within the body of Christ, slipped to a very troubling place, with rampant claims that God had somehow “ordained” the mass murder attack because of the sexuality of the individuals.

Sadly, such dangerous rhetoric is more common in the body of Christ than we’d like to admit because it slams the door in the faces of those who deserve and need God’s love. (Thankfully that wasn’t the only reaction from the church.)

Churches Acknowledging Ramadan

On Sunday, June 5, one week before the tragedy in Orlando, a quiet but powerful and heartwarming demonstration of solidarity took place in Duluth, Minn., as Pilgrim Congregational Church began displaying a sign on its front lawn wishing its Muslim neighbors a “Blessed Ramadan.”

Pilgrim is one of 25 members of the Minnesota Council of Churches, an inter-denominational group of congregations from the National Baptist Convention, the Church of God in Christ and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, among others.

The Council organized the Blessed Ramadan campaign to counteract the recent rise in Islamophobia, claiming religious hate “is not who we are in Minnesota,” and that “we are a welcoming, caring, respectful community,” according to the Council’s program and communications director, Jerad Morey.

The “Blessed Ramadan” yard sign was placed on Pilgrim’s front lawn to mark the beginning of Ramadan, an annual, month-long observance that is one of the five pillars of the Islamic faith. For a group of Christian churches to show a sign of solidarity with and goodwill toward the Muslim community during perhaps the most important time of its year is definitely significant.

This bold but loving action demonstrates that there are some Christian communities in America who are secure enough in the God they serve that they are not afraid to dialogue and work together with people who are not exactly like them, a character trait that is absolutely vital in effectively fulfilling the great commission.

The Power of Inviting and Continuing Conversation

So what’s the connection between these two events, one a triumph of the human spirit and the other a tragedy of human brokenness? Both events illustrate the impact a willingness to dialogue can have on ministry effectiveness.

Don’t get so caught up in your “holy huddles” that you can’t communicate with those who don’t share the same values.

When Christians demonstrate an unwillingness to engage in conversation with others who think differently, what results is the disgusting fallout from the Orlando shooting, where some people who profess a deep love for Jesus Christ have been confidently asserting that the gunman was somehow doing the Lord’s work because the victims were gay.

When we make such statements in the wake of such a horrendous tragedy, not only do we present Jesus in the worst possible light to those who don’t know him, but we also reveal the sad fact that we don’t know how to coexist in harmony with people whose values and theology are different than ours.

And with an ever-evolving world and a swiftly changing demography, that’s a very difficult, gospel-inhibiting position to take.

On his podcast, “Rainer on Leadership,” Dr. Thom Rainer, President and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, often warns his listeners to not get so caught up in their “holy huddles” that they don’t know how to live or even communicate with groups of people who either don’t share the same values and ideologies or don’t share the same faith altogether.

When we make statements and actions that denigrate entire groups of people, we communicate to the general public that we prioritize our theology over love, the central characteristic Jesus tells his disciples in John 13:34-35 that they absolutely must have to be identified as a follower of Christ.

But when we put our theology to the side and extend an olive branch to a group of people who don’t share our faith tradition during the most important time of their year, we communicate not only to that group but to the entire community that we are open to dialogue and to working together with others toward a common goal of improving our communities. We can embrace those we disagree with and not compromise our faith.

The Role of the Church Communicator

Demonstrating a willingness to reach across the aisles of religion and ideology to work toward common goals, on one hand, accurately conveys the love of Jesus and gives greater opportunity for the gospel to be heard in more places. On the other hand, displaying such openness can give a church great favor in the community with its various programs and initiatives.

It was my experience as a pastor that even though every church in a community wanted to do great work, it was those churches most willing to communicate and work with others, while, of course, never compromising their values, that had the most favor in the community and were able to accomplish more of their vision.

We can embrace those we disagree with and not compromise our faith.

So much of the job of church communicators is to be faithful stewards over their church’s message, whether through web, email, social, publications or internal communications. While most of these tools or platforms are forward facing, they serve largely to reinforce the message of the ministry and continue the conversation with people who are already connected to the ministry. Church communicators, in this way, are instruments of inreach.

Communicators evolve and become more of an instrument of outreach when they begin to work with the pastor to discern and strategize how best to communicate the message of their church and demonstrate both that specific message and the message of the gospel in the way it works with other faith groups and social organizations in the community. Pastors would do themselves well to empower their communicators to assist them with this strategy.

The “Blessed Ramadan” campaign in Minnesota is a perfect example of a well-thought-out plan by a group of churches who felt the burden of sharing the love of Christ in a climate and environment where love had been sorely lacking. I wonder if there was an experienced communicator at the table when the Minnesota Council of Churches conceived this campaign.

This one simple action—pronouncing blessings over another faith community’s most important time of the year—communicated so much and brought a lot goodwill to the greater community. It’s in stark contrast to the negative way some Christians responded to the Orlando shooting and lashed out at the LGBT community.

We live in changing times and must find ways to interact and connect with people, even those we disagree with. Who knows the impact it can have? But you can be sure “Blessed Ramadan” opened more doors of dialogue for the gospel than churches who vocally opposed mosques in their communities. You can also be sure Christians who mourned with the LGBT community opened more doors than those who expressed condemnation.

Post By:

Marcus Cylar

A former pastor in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Marcus Cylar is an author, editor, and doctor of ministry graduate of Ecumenical Theological Seminary in Detroit, where he studied church communications. He and his wife, Chariece, are consultants who help churches, educational institutions, nonprofits, and small businesses organize more intentionally, communicate more effectively and use technology with greater savvy.
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