When Samir Selmanovic describes himself as a "Muslim atheist Jewish Christian," he's not trying to be irreverent or overly inclusive. He's describing his Christianity.
"The words 'Muslim, atheist, and Jewish' are all adjectives toward the word 'Christian,'" he explained in a phone interview.
A New York-based pastor and author who is speaking in Toledo this weekend, Mr. Selmanovic asserted in an interview with The Blade that he is uncompromisingly and unflinchingly Christian. At the same time, he said, his faith has been influenced and enriched by Islam, Judaism, and atheism. He wishes he could add more religions to that list.
"It's basically saying that, together, people are not my competitors but mostly my teachers," he said.
Coming to the realization that everyone - not just those who share one's religion or culture - is created in God's image is a challenge, he said.
Yet Mr. Selmanovic has devoted himself to trying to break down the barriers that people put up between themselves and "the other."
The 45-year-old pastor has crossed over and maneuvered around a number of barriers in his own journeys. He grew up in the former Yugoslavia in Croatia, now independent, in a Muslim family that lived under an atheistic communist government.
He became a Christian while serving in the army, and eventually became a pastor.
Five years ago, Mr. Selmanovic quit a comfortable job as the pastor of a large and growing Seventh-day Adventist church in California and moved with his wife and two young daughters to New York City, where he is pastor of a nondenominational church called Citylights and the founder of the interfaith community Faith House Manhattan.
He wrote about his spiritual path in the book It's All About God: Reflections of a Muslim Atheist Jewish Christian, published last year by Jossey-Bass/Wiley Books, and gives lectures across the country promoting interfaith education, outreach, and understanding.
The days of religious and cultural isolation and belief in one's "spiritual supremacy" are over, Mr. Selmanovic said. In today's shrinking, increasingly diverse world, the religions and beliefs that are the strongest are the ones with the most bridges, not the biggest walls, he said.
"People who isolate themselves and are afraid are afraid because their faith doesn't have roots," Mr. Selmanovic said. "I think being open in a pluralistic society is a show of strength. Withdrawing and hunkering down is actually giving up."
Strangers play important roles in The Bible and in today's world, Mr. Selmanovic said.
"In the New Testament, you have 36 times 'Love the stranger,' and only two times 'Love your neighbor,'" he said. "As a community, the things we see that are wrong are just normal to us. That's the way things are. When others come here, they see things a different way and if we listen to them, there is plenty to learn. Even those people who are enemies and wish us bad, they have something to tell us. What they see is what we don't want to see."
Mike Fortune, pastor of Toledo First Seventh-day Adventist Church, said he invited Mr. Selmanovic to talk at his church because "he has a message worth hearing - that there are things that are inherently good in people, even if they are never going to believe everything we believe."
He said Mr. Selmanovic's teachings are biblically based and that it is unfortunate some people mistakenly accuse him of pluralism.
"Part of Christianity is being known by your love," Mr. Fortune said, "and if you can't have love and live in community with people who are dramatically different, regardless of whether they agree with you, then I'm not sure you really understand the Bible."
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