Bahai News -- The Charlotte Observer - Others call Bible Belt home, too Posted on Fri, Sep. 26, 2003

Others call Bible Belt home, too

On Faith

It was just a baby step really -- 13 folks sharing fried chicken and conversation Thursday afternoon at Charlotte's Covenant Presbyterian Church.

But on the journey from what one of our lunch buddies called tolerance to acceptance to inclusion to oneness, every step forward counts. And every honest discussion about Baha'is, Billy Graham and respecting each other's faith is a very good thing.

Mecklenburg Ministries hosted the luncheon forum that focused on a great question in a town that named a major highway for a conservative Christian leader:

What is it like not being Christian in Charlotte?

We batted around the Billy Graham Parkway issue for a few moments. Some of us are OK with it. But one woman called it an embarrassment and said she always hopes her out-of-town visitors don't see the signs coming in from the airport. We all agreed with Naseem Nuri when she said it's proof that history is written by the dominant culture.

Nuri, one of several hundred members of the Baha'i faith in Charlotte, led the discussion that delved deeper than road signs. She gave us a glimpse of her life in a Bible Belt town, where a fitness trainer at the Y once nagged her about coming to church and her two children have been asked what Santa is bringing them for Christmas.

Santa doesn't bring them anything, she said, because they're not Christian. Accepting that fact -- and appreciating that we all don't think and pray alike -- is perhaps the best way to loosen the grip that many believe Christianity has on this community.

So how do we welcome everyone to the table?

• Watch your language. Instead of asking your new neighbors whether they've found a church home, Nuri suggested, ask them whether they've found a house of worship.

And don't think everyone accepts that "I'm-praying-for-you" line, she said. What they sometimes think people mean is: "You're going to hell unless you accept Jesus."

• You know what happens when you assume. Don't think every child you run into at the mall is a Christian. Just because Nuri is a vegetarian doesn't mean every Baha'i is a vegetarian. Take the time to treat people the way they deserve to be treated. As an individual. And with respect.

• The glass is half full. Sure there are differences between religions that might never be resolved. But there are also threads that tie one faith to another, Nuri said. The belief that deeds count more than words. Honoring your parents. Affirming the power of prayer, meditation and fasting.

"I think a position to take is that we disagree," she said. "But my own vision is that there is a mutual respect and understanding."

Nuri, 52, said it's not all bad being a Baha'i in the Bible Belt.

She gets to talk about religion a lot, one of her favorite subjects. She gets to represent her faith at various classes, luncheons and programs, and talk about the Baha'i focus on equality among all people.

And in this town of big steeples and occasionally narrow minds, she gets to make a powerful point just by being here:

"There's a certain pride in being something different. It's OK if it's not mainstream."

©Copyright 2003, The Charlotte Observer (NC, USA)

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