Posted by: Brian Musser | July 2, 2018

How Do I Ask For Forgiveness?

As the Baptist Campus Minister on a major secular university in a large city on the East Coast of the U.S., I get into conversations that most other people don’t.  My office has consistently been near the Muslim Prayer Room. Because of this I have develop36261307_953520338151926_1315024342135865344_n.jpged many friendships with Muslim students on my campus. Most of the student leadership of the Drexel Muslim Student Association (DMSA) know who I am.  Those conversations have been rich and meaningful both to me and to the Muslim students. I’ve received several thank you cards and gifts from them.

Recently I was invited to be part of an interfaith panel discussion hosted by the DMSA. The president who moderated the event referred to me as their dear friend.  People often think that the only way to befriend Muslims is to be less Christian, to water down what you believe about Jesus but if you can watch what I say in this video you can see a conversation with other faiths that does not shy away from the core beliefs of our faith.  

Because of how we presented ourselves on the panel, a Drexel alum and member of the DMSA who now works for the Drexel College of Business, invited us to speak to the Mandela-Washington Fellows, a group of African leaders being hosted by Drexel on behalf of the U.S. State Department.  We were given 20 minutes to talk about our faiths in the context of Philadelphia and especially how they relate to each other. The Imam began by acknowledging me as a mentor figure to him. During my presentation in the context of William Penn’s vision for the city of Philadelphia, I was able to include the following paragraph:

Now from my perspective these ideas of freedom of conscience and religious tolerance fit perfectly into the Christian worldview.  I believe that:
1) No one is born a Christian.  At some point in your life you need to make a conscience decision to follow Jesus of Nazareth the Christ.  This decision must be of your own free choosing and cannot be coerced.
2) That Christianity was first presented to the world on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem through multiple languages to many different people.  So therefore, Christianity was founded to have diversity within its own ranks.
3) I also believe that Jesus died and rose again for sinners who were separated from God and even enemies to God.  So the person I strive to follow with my life dies for those who disagreed with Him. Jesus is my example so I should be willing to sacrifice myself not just for my friends but also for my enemies.
4) This idea is practically played out in Scripture that the first time the message of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection was publicly proclaimed, it was to offer forgiveness to many of the same people who may have been responsible for His crucifixion just weeks earlier.
I say that, to say this:  Freedom of Conscience and Religious Tolerance are not just good American ideals, both William Penn and I believe that they are at the very heart of the Christian faith.”

It is one thing to get to publicly proclaim the Christian faith on these panels and at the conferences, but I regard the individual conversations with my Muslim friends as the most valuable.  I remember this one time several years ago, another student president of the DMSA stopped me on the sidewalk outside of my office building. We started off with just normal everyday greetings but the he gets serious and asks, “Can I talk to you?”  Now for those of you who know me, that answer is just about always yes. I ask him if this was a sidewalk conversation or a sit down in my office conversation. He replies, “office.” When we get to my office, since at this time the prayer room door was immediately next to my office door, I asked him if we should keep the door open or closed.  He closes the door.

I always love that moment right before a conversation gets interesting.  I can usually tell its coming. I enjoy the anticipation of knowing it will be a conversation that I never imagined having.  

The next words came.  “As president of the MSA I have made some mistakes.  How do I ask forgiveness of my fellow student leaders for the mistakes I have made?”

For the next two hours we talk about what forgiveness looks like in Islam and what forgiveness looks like in Christianity.  We talk about how forgiveness is always a gift. We can only ask for it. We can never demand it. We can’t earn it. The offended person must choose to forgive us.  We can do things to help them choose but we can’t force them to choose. Then we talked about how we can ask in the right way and give others every reason to forgive us but they can still choose not to forgive.  Finally, I talked about how what I believe about forgiveness from God through Jesus helps me be able to forgive others.

On some levels this conversation was extraordinary but on the other hand it was just another day in the office for me.  I love how at my job extraordinary conversations are routine.

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