Samir Selmanović on the Importance of Diversity

(system) #1

Chattanooga, Tennessee, Sabbath afternoon – Samir Selmanović, founder of the interfaith nonprofit Faith House Manhattan, and author of It’s Really All About God, was Sabbath afternoon’s featured speaker at the Adventist Forum Conference.

Selmanović opened with the story of his wedding – actually, two weddings (both to the same woman, one right after the other). He told how he and his wife planned two weddings, with two distinct sets of rituals, separate parties, and different bridesmaids. He explained this was because his family was atheist, while his wife’s family was Adventist. Having two weddings meant he had to wait an extra night before the wedding night. He confessed that he hoped that Jesus would not come before the second wedding!

“How did I get myself into this ridiculous situation?” Selmanović asked, then answered:

“Because there were two separate groups of people who just couldn’t think of being together.”

“Wouldn’t we be better together?”

Selmanović highlighted the fact that our world is ever more interconnected. If someone in Thailand gets sick with bird flu, we are all worried. We all know each other better and better: the good, the bad and the ugly. This is the current predicament of the human race.

But we are different. Imagine, he said, what the world would be like if everyone in it was an Adventist. Veggie franks everywhere!

No – diversity is not a problem to overcome, but the life-giving order of the world. Differences can feel threatening, but they are the only way we can go into the future.

Community is important, but you have to spend time away from that community – away from the well you have been digging in for a long time – to really see the amazing grace.

What do we as Adventists have to give the world?

Selmanović described how he answers when someone asks him what a Seventh-day Adventist is. He tells them about Sabbath – a day of mindfulness and presence. A day when you don’t have to do anything, or be anything, but just walk into the space that has been given to you. It is time – a critical enzyme that has been deleted from our lives.

He tells the people asking that we believe in ministering to the whole person: body, mind and spirit. The whole experience. Adventist hospitals and our medical work is key. The hospital is the last public, sacred ground – a place of birth, death, suffering and healing.

Selmanović talked about how we often think of God as a vertical God – a God above us. But he is a sideways God – a horizontal God.

He mentioned Melchizedek, described in Genesis as a priest who blesses Abraham. But a priest of what? Wasn’t Abraham the first believer? This is God entering sideways, Selmanović said.

And the three magi? Not Jews, or Christians later, that we know of. They were astrologists. They followed horoscopes. They came in sideways.

The Samaritan? Who is he? A stranger. This is God sideways.

We need these sideways relationships.

Interdependence is a difficult thing. To be interdependent you have to know how to receive. It means loss of control. But it is crucial.


After Selmanović finished speaking, Charles Scriven, recently retired president of Kettering College, gave a prepared response.

First he praised Selmanović’s book as “disturbing,” “paradigm-shattering” and a “challenge to conventional wisdom.”

Scriven carried Selmanović’s hypothetical farther, and asked us to imagine if Ted Wilson ran the entire world. “If any one group ran the show it would descend into some kind of hell,” Scriven said. “We could not experience redemption if all we had was a mirror image of ourselves.”

Scriven said that we need to think of our Adventist church in terms of benevolence, love and peacemaking if we want to demonstrate what Jesus himself embodied. The phrase “the remnant” should be eliminated from the Adventist lexicon immediately, Scriven said. Instead, we need to say yes to wholeness, and yes to the world.

Beatrice Neall, a retired professor of theology at Union College and creator of a website for Muslim youth, offered the second response.

She said that when she read Selmanović’s book, it felt like a swarm of bees, challenging everything she believed.

Neall highlighted Selmanović’s idea that we should keep our own identities, because we have more genuine dialogue if we are true to ourselves and our own convictions. She also mentioned that he doesn’t seem to like words such as “certainty” and “truth.”

She mentioned how troubling it is that Adventists have not always done the right thing – such as in Nazi Germany, or in the Civil Rights Movement. And now we don’t know what to do with gay people, or women pastors. She said it is so important for us to do our part. (She mentioned that Spectrum is good at “getting after us when we are lazy and not doing our part.”)

The third response came from Amin Issa, a Muslim who is active in the Muslim community in Chattanooga.

“Samir used the word ‘stranger’ at the end of his talk,” Issa said. “That’s me.”

Issa said that we need a progressive identity, as opposed to regressive. We can use that as a framework when we go out in the world and act. Whenever we act, we should ask: How will this benefit my world? Because these things build.

Issa said the Adventist community in Chattanooga has always done good things with the Muslim community, such as helping when the tornado came.

“We can progress ourselves, but together we can progress a lot faster, better and more efficiently,” Issa said.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(Gene Fortner) #2

German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared that in Germany, multiculturalism has “utterly failed.” Both Australia’s ex-prime minister John Howard and Spain’s ex-prime minister Jose Maria Aznar reached the same conclusion about multiculturalism in their countries.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has warned that multiculturalism is fostering extremist ideology and directly contributing to homegrown Islamic terrorism. UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage said the United Kingdom’s push for multiculturalism has not united Britons but pushed them apart. It has allowed for Islam to emerge despite Britain’s Judeo-Christian culture.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the roots of violent Islamism are not “superficial but deep” and can be found “in the extremist minority that now, in every European city, preach hatred of the West and our way of life.”

The bottom line is that much of the Muslim world is at war with Western civilization. There’s no question that the West has the military might to thwart radical Islam’s agenda. The question up for grabs is whether we have the intelligence to recognize the attack and the will to defend ourselves from annihilation.

Multiculturalism is Islamists’ foot in the door. At the heart of multiculturalism is an attack on Western and Christian values. Much of that attack has its roots on college campuses among the intellectual elite who see their mission as indoctrinating our youth. In past columns, I’ve documented professorial hate-America teaching, such as a UCLA economics professor’s telling his class, “The United States of America, backed by facts, is the greediest and most selfish country in the world.” A history professor told her class: “Capitalism isn’t a lie on purpose. It’s just a lie.” She also said: “(Capitalists) are swine. … They’re bastard people.” Students sit through lectures listening to professorial rants about topics such as globalism and Western exploitation of the Middle East and Third World peoples.

Some public school boards have banned songs and music containing references to Santa Claus, Jesus or other religious Christmas symbols. The New York City school system permits displays of Jewish menorahs and the Muslim star and crescent, but not the Christian Nativity scene. One school district banned a teacher from using excerpts from historical documents in his classroom because they contained references to God and Christianity. The historical documents in question were the Declaration of Independence and “The Rights of the Colonists,” by Samuel Adams.

The U.S. is a nation of many races, ethnicities, religions and cultures. Since our inception, people from all over the world have immigrated here to become Americans. They have learned English and American history and celebrated American traditions and values. They have become Americans while also respecting and adapting some of the traditions of the countries they left behind. By contrast, many of today’s immigrants demand that classes be taught — and official documents be printed — in their native language. Other immigrants demand the use of Shariah, practices that permit honor killing and female genital mutilation.

Multiculturalists argue that different cultural values are morally equivalent. That’s nonsense. Western culture and values are superior. For those who’d accuse me of Eurocentrism, I’d ask: Is forcible female genital mutilation, as practiced in nearly 30 sub-Saharan African and Middle Eastern countries, a morally equivalent cultural value? Slavery is practiced in Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Sudan; is it morally equivalent?

In most of the Middle East, there are numerous limits placed on women, such as prohibitions on driving, employment and education. Under Islamic law, in some countries, female adulterers face death by stoning, and thieves face the punishment of having their hand severed. In some countries, homosexuality is a crime punishable by death. Are these cultural values morally equivalent, superior or inferior to Western values?

Multiculturalism has not yet done the damage in the U.S. that it has in western European countries — such as England, France and Germany — but it’s on its way. By the way, one need not be a Westerner to hold Western values. Mainly, you just have to accept the supremacy of the individual above all else.

(Interested Friend) #3

In my view I agree that multiculturalism is destructive and is now doing untold damage to the values of the USA. I see it as a myth which originated in academia when academics had nothing better to do!
All cultures equal? Not at all.
The Diversity Myth by Sachs and Thiel is a good study of so called diversity.

(Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:13) #4

“Since our inception, people from all over the world have immigrated here to become Americans.”

Who were the Americans at our inception? I find that claims such as this & your citing exclusively of extreme examples detract from the credibility of your conclusions. To be convincing, you need to remove all indications of prejudice & fear mongering, which I suspect you’d protest are present. They are there, perhaps stronger for your inability to recognize them.

(Gene Fortner) #5

In a nation like America, the acceptance of Multiculturalism leads to a kind of slow rot, as the distinctive ideas at the root our culture — the Enlightenment ideals of our Founding Fathers — slowly die from neglect. But such a nation can ride on its previous cultural momentum for generations, taking many years to collapses from within — and that gives us a long time to fight Multiculturalism before it is too late. A nation like France, which finds itself host to a large minority of religiously strident Muslim immigrants thoroughly untouched by Enlightenment intellectual and political traditions, will not be allowed the luxury of a death by slow rot. It must act much more quickly to save itself.

(Bronwyn Reid ) #6

If you believe that cultures are not equal, what cultures would you determine to be inferior and what cultures would you determine to be superior?

(Gene Fortner) #7

The Maya practiced human sacrifice to an extent. In some Maya rituals people were killed by having their arms and legs held while a priest cut the person’s chest open and tore out his heart as an offering. This is depicted on ancient objects such as pictorial texts, known as codices
Human sacrifice was a religious practice characteristic of pre-Columbian Aztec civilization, as well as of other Mesoamerican civilizations like the Maya and the Zapotec.

Why the Incas offered up child sacrifices
Cannibalism has recently been both practiced and fiercely condemned in several wars, especially in Liberia and Congo.

Stalin’s Russia

Mao’s China

Pol Pot’s Cambodia

(Interested Friend) #8

If it isn’t obvious than I doubt my appraisal would convince you.
In The Grip of Truth

(k_Lutz) #9

No, it is not obvious! Your previous comment was against multi-culturalism, which infers that all cultures are not equal. Thus, to make sense of this discrimination one would be clear on the particulars of cultures that could not be accepted.

Please recall that in a public forum where the general reader has not the ‘history’ of interchanges between you and @bronwynreid a forthright answer is much more enlightening. And please, …

Trust God.

(George Tichy) #10

Wasn’t there an effort in Europe, in the 1940s, made to eliminate multiculturalism in a certain country? How did that go?

I believe that those people who are against multiculturalism would also love to see the elimination of multireligionism, having only one religion enforced globally - their own, of course…

(Bronwyn Reid ) #11

History records the tragic outcome of the Nazi genocide against the social, religious and cultural groups that it demonised and systematically tortured and murdered. There are many dictators who have used racism and intolerance to slaughter their tribal and ethnic minorities. Rwanda and Syria are recent examples of racist fuelled mass genocide. No one who takes the name Christian can condone this hatred as racism has no place in God’s Kingdom.