With the recent escalating tensions between the United States and Iran, some Christians may question what the future holds in terms of relations with Muslims.
Jason Parks, senior pastor of Refuge Church, is one of those now responsible for bridging the gap between the two religions. He was recently appointed the first Muslim-evangelical Christian relations coordinator for the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding.
The New York-based group has previously focused on relations between Muslim and Jews and African-Americans and Jews. According to a press release, the organization believes a “direct dialogue between ethnic communities is the most effective path towards reconciliation.”
Parks informed his home church Sunday he had made a commitment to the FFEU. He has committed to serve as coordinator for one year.
Need for the position
Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the foundation said, the FFEU released a first-of-its-kind study last year, which showed evangelical Christian and Muslim relations is the greatest inter-religious challenge in America today. Notably, the study found evangelicals have little interest in interacting or learning more about Muslims.
“As a result of the research, the foundation decided to create programming and a focus around narrowing the divide between the two,” Schneier said. “We’re very excited for Pastor Parks to join our team and help us create dialogue and programming between these two groups.”
Schneier, who described Parks as a “dynamic evangelical leader,” explained the foundation has been successful in bringing Muslims and Jews together, so he's hoping the same results can be accomplished between Muslims and Christians.
“Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the world and evangelical Christianity is the fastest-growing religion in the U.S., therefore we must find a way to bring the two together,” Schneier said.
In his role as coordinator, Parks will plan, develop and execute twinning, or partnership, events between evangelical pastors and Imams. He will also develop and nurture relationships between those religious leaders and leaders, scholars, influencers and local communities.
On Sunday afternoon, Parks accompanied a contingent of evangelical leaders from North Alabama to the Huntsville Islamic Center.
“If I'm going to be fostering those relationships abroad, fostering those relationships here at home is important,” he said. “I think people tend to criticize what they don't understand, but even if we don't believe the same things, we can still come together and have dialogue.”
Parks, who lives in Ardmore, Tennessee, founded Refuge Church in 2013. The church now has three campuses, including one on Lindsay Lane in Athens. Refuge's global online ministry, Church at My House,” reaches more than 1 million people worldwide.
Parks received his master’s of divinity degree from Rockbridge Seminary and his master of business administration degree from Liberty University. He and his wife Jessica have three children.
Parks said he first got to experience Muslim-Christian relations last year when he attended a mission to Azerbaijan. He explained he met with other political and religious leaders in an effort to create conversation between the two groups.
When asked if there were any obvious misconceptions Christians have of Muslims, Parks said the two religions aren't so far apart. He added the trip to the Islamic Center only emphasized how much the two have in common.
“One thing we saw was people are people. Regardless of what kind of cultural background people come from, they are still people,” he said. “We had the opportunity to attend afternoon prayer. Though our worship style is different, there were kids there laughing and playing. They were talking about potluck events and told us we needed to come back and try the food. People in the Muslim community in Huntsville worship and fellowship together.”
Visit https://ffeu.org for more information on the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding.