11:00 A.M. EST July 8, 2010 | ROSEMONT, Ill. (UMNS)
The Rev. Amos Oladipo accepted an "Interfaith Unity Award" from the
Islamic Society of North America on behalf of the Northern Illinois
Annual (regional) Conference.
A UMNS photo by Susan Hogan.
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The Rev. Amos Oladipo bounded toward the stage with a big smile on his face to accept an uncommon award for United Methodists.
The nation’s largest organization of Muslims, drawing 20,000 people to
its annual convention, on July 4 bestowed its “Interfaith Unity Award”
to the Northern Illinois Annual (regional) Conference.
The praise extended beyond the conference as leaders of the Islamic
Society of North America called the United Methodists “remarkable.”
Muslims dedicated an entire page of the program to pay tribute to United Methodists.
“As the national level, the Islamic Society of North America has found a
close ally in The United Methodist Church,” the program said, “both
working together in campaigning for social justice, peace and equity.”
The recognition held special meaning for the 55-year-old Oladipo, who
heads the conference’s ecumenical and interfaith outreach. He grew up in
Nigeria, the son of a Muslim mother who later converted to
“My father had been an indigenous spiritual leader before converting to
Christianity,” said Oladipo, his arms wrapped around the plaque
recognizing the joint efforts of Chicago-area United Methodists and
“I grew up knowing there were good people in many faiths. I learned the importance of working together.”
‘Our Muslim neighbors’
United Methodists adopted an official resolution to work with Muslims in 1992. The statement, “Our Muslim Neighbors,” was amended and readopted in 2004.
The statement encourages United Methodist agencies and local
organizations to work with Muslims to address “common problems and
The United Methodist Committee on Relief joins with Muslim Aid in delivering boats in Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami.
A UMNS file photo courtesy of UMCOR.
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Several key world religious leaders, including Sheikh Ali Gomaa, the
Grand Mufti of Egypt, and Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the
National Council of Churches, were on hand for the award presentation.
United Methodists are now working with Muslims in ways never before
seen. For instance, the denomination’s largest U.S. charity is teaming
with British Muslim charities to provide aid to for countries affected
by disaster, poverty and conflict, such as Sri Lanka and Indonesia.
Another example of new interfaith partnerships is seen in Claremont
University's agreement to serve as a training ground for religious
leaders in Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions.
Claremont recently passed a review by the University Senate, the body in
the denomination charged with making sure schools meet the standards of
a United Methodist institution.
The Rev. Jerry D. Campbell, Claremont’s president, told the UMNS the
review was launched by people worried that the school had lost its
United Methodist identity.
“Our United Methodist ties are extremely important to us,” he said.
Partners in caring
Claremont is not alone.
“There are many Methodists working hard at these relationships,” said
the Rev. J. Philip Wogamon, professor emeritus of Christian Ethics at
Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.
At the same time, some United Methodists oppose those relationships
because they fear interfaith cooperation leads to co-opting of the
Christian faith, he said.
Wogamon, a past president of the D.C.-based Interfaith Alliance, said
the impact of global religious conflict makes cooperation between people
of faiths more critical than ever before.
“There are Muslims who are open and desirous of conversation and
cooperation, and there are Muslims who are narrow and militant,” he
said. “You could say the same thing about Christians.”
Muslims and United Methodists have partnered in multiple efforts in
“We’ve put together programs for college students to work together,”
said Emmy Lou John of Aurora, Ill. “We also held an interfaith forum
with mayoral candidates.”
The faiths also came together around various social justice issues, uniting in their appeals to state legislators.
“There are Muslims who are open and
desirous of conversation and cooperation, and there are Muslims who are
narrow and militant. You could say the same thing about Christians.” --
The Rev. J. Philip Wogamon
“Working with United Methodists has taught us the value of shared
experience,” said Imam Kareem Irfan, president of the Council of
Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago. He’s the first Muslim to
serve in that role.
After the interfaith banquet in the Chicago suburb, the soft-spoken
Oladipo talked about his mother, who died a couple of years ago.
“She had a beautiful faith, first as a Muslim, then as a Christian,” said Oladipo, who leads Epworth United Methodist Church in Chicago.
His father died last year. Oladipo said his parents raised him in
southern Nigeria, where he eventually attended seminary. He left his
homeland in 1989.
Oladipo said he struggled with his decision to become a pastor. When
asked why, he pointed to the United Methodist mission statement to “make
disciples of Jesus Christ.”
United Methodist policy, set forth in “Our Muslims Neighbors,” makes it
clear that converting Muslims to Christianity is not the goal of
“I didn’t want to convert Muslims,” Oladipo said. “Because my mother was
a Muslim, I knew how deeply the people loved God. We lived in harmony
together as Muslims and Christians.”
Today, he fosters harmony between Muslims and Christians in Illinois.
“My mother would be happy,” he said, flashing another wide smile.
*Hogan is a freelance writer based in Chicago.
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