KELLER -- Hoping to nurture good will between two major faiths, Christians and Muslims will mingle Sunday at a Texas barbecue at a Keller church.The Rev. Bob Roberts, pastor of the 3,000-member NorthWood Church, said the gathering is intended to create friendships and recruit Muslims and Christians who will work together on a series of community projects."We've got a big Muslim issue in America," Roberts said. "There are 2 billion Christians in the world and 1.5 billion Muslims. If we don't learn how to get along, we are going to have a very sick world."Those attending will be served beef slaughtered according to Islamic rules.It's a follow-up to a similar service at NorthWood -- attended by 1,500 Muslims and 1,000 Christians -- shortly after the 10th anniversary of 9-11.That service, labeled "repulsive" by a political activist, was highly emotional.At one point, Roberts told the Muslims, "We love you." After a standing ovation, a Muslim in the audience stood and replied to Roberts, "We love you too."At Sunday's event, Muslims and Christians will sign up to work together on several volunteer projects, including painting and remodeling homes and renovating a Haltom City baseball field. Also, women will take part in cooking clubs, sharing recipes from their different cultures.Among the speakers will be U.S. Rep. Kay Granger; former South Carolina Gov. David Beasley, director of the Center for Global Strategies in Colorado Springs, Colo.; and Azhar Azeez, vice president of the Islamic Society of North America in Plainfield, Ind.'Total disconnect'Azeez said the event is vital to reducing tensions between Muslims and Baptists and other evangelicals."Muslims have made some progress in relations with different Christian denominations," he said. "But for years, there's been a total disconnect between Muslims and evangelicals, particularly Baptists. Some Baptist evangelicals have said some unkind things about Islam and the life of" the prophet Muhammad.Roberts is the son of a Texas Baptist minister and is a graduate of Baylor University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.He is known for using creative ways to draw people to church. His church, founded in 1985, has blossomed and has given rise to similar congregations. He challenges members to think globally and locally and coined the word glocal to describe the church's mission.NorthWood members have done humanitarian works in Vietnam, the West Bank and other locations. Roberts has been to Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Gaza and Egypt in his more recent effort to break down barriers between evangelicals and Muslims."Our goal is to connect people to people," Roberts said.In his book Bold as Love, released three weeks ago, Roberts says American Christians have a mission field in their back yards. Evangelicals, he writes, spend millions to put missionaries in the Muslim world but never meet Muslims just down the street.Roberts said that in 1973, Dallas-Fort Worth had one mosque. Now it has 43.Based on fears of 9-11 and other factors, evangelicals often avoid befriending Muslims and see them as a prime target for conversion."Many see Muslims as the enemy in a conflict they are trying to win," Roberts said. "Don't get me wrong, I want everyone to accept Christ," he said. "But you have to see a Muslim as a person and not just as an object to be converted."Roberts said Muslims and Christians do have common ground, such as loving one's neighbor and helping others."But at the end of the day, our views about Jesus are so radically different that it's hard for evangelicals to get along with Muslims. What I'm saying is that you are not going to love Muslims or like them because they agree about Jesus," Roberts said. "You love them because Jesus says to love them."'Bridges of friendship'One of Roberts' closest allies is Imam Zia ul Haque Sheikh, leader of the Islamic Center of Irving, where about 3,000 Muslims attend prayers. The imam expects to bring several hundred Muslims to the barbecue at NorthWood."People who have a negative image about Islam are people who don't know Muslims at all," he said. "There is so much miscommunication and misinformation about both Muslims and Christians."Roberts said he lost some church members and encountered criticism because of his efforts to reach out to the DFW Muslim population. Some believe, he said, that meeting with Muslims waters down the Christian faith."That's not really true," Roberts said. "My faith in Jesus has grown stronger. We want to be open and honest in sharing our beliefs with Muslims and let them do the same. Our goal is just to build bridges of friendship."This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.
If you go
The "Bold as Love" multifaith event is set for 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Sunday at NorthWood Church, 1870 Rufe Snow Drive, Keller.
Free and open to the public.