My name is Alan Jones**. I am a United Methodist pastor and the pastor at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Sacramento, California.
We are the third largest church in the United States, and we have approximately 7 million members. We are distinctive in that we have people from lots of racial and cultural backgrounds in the life of our denomination, so, we have large numbers of people who are African American, people who are from Korea, people who are from China, people from other countries around the world. And we are very proud of that multi-cultural heritage.
I’m very glad to be connected with the Hizmet Movement as a United Methodist pastor.
There is a strong connection, I believe, between the values that Hizmet holds, coming from Islam, and the values that United Methodists hold to, coming from Christianity.
We both believe very strongly in sense of God’s presence in our lives, and the reality of God is very important to us.
Secondly, we both believe that the relationship with God leads us to an involvement in the community. In our tradition, we quote our founder, John Wesley, as saying, “There is no holiness without social holiness.”
And I believe that Hizmet believes in that very passionately; that the relationship with God and the connection of the community with God is best expressed in living out a life of compassion and care and peace in the community.
And I believe compassion, care and peace are values that bind together the human family when it’s at its best.
So, I see a very strong connection between my tradition and the Hizmet tradition of Islam.
My views about Mr. Gulen are very much the same as my views about Hizmet in that he has been an extraordinary inspiration and a source of a lot of wisdom that is grounded in the Movement. I very much appreciate his insistence that at least in this branch of Islam it’s very important to see sisters and brothers in other religious traditions.
We are indeed—as the Qur’an reminds us—people of the Book and we share so many values, and he has been insistent on that. He has also been very insistent on blending that connection between the spiritual and the religious life and the social.
Something I particularly appreciate about his contribution is his insistence on the equality of women and men in the tradition.
Both within Islam and within Christianity, we have a lot of people who don’t see things that way and prefer to see women in an inferior position. I personally believe very passionately—my wife is also a United Methodist pastor. I think we have different understandings as women and men, but we have the same status, the same standing within the tradition.
So, I can go on..
There’s a long list of things that I think I appreciate in his witness and I like the vitality of the participation and the vitality of hospitality within the Hizmet Movement, which I believe comes directly as an inspiration from him.
I believe, certainly in the United States as I’m experiencing the Hizmet Movement, I’m experiencing extraordinary hospitality, a great warmth of people, a genuine spirit, an openness, a compassionate style. I have been invited many times into the homes of Hizmet members and have experienced their very authentic warmth and care and that has extended through times of crisis in my own family, going through surgery recently, and going through other experiences… I’m getting calls from my Hizmet friends, asking how I’m doing and checking in with me… I’m very touched by the warmth that I experience, and the love and care…
Hizmet’s interfaith efforts are totally to be commended.
I think it’s a really wonderful emphasis to bring to the life of faith, and especially in the modern world where there is so much inter-face between people of different cultures and different religions.
I really commend Hizmet for that.
One of my own reflections on that as somebody who has been very active in interfaith relating for the whole of my adult life is that what I experience with Hizmet is not simply interfaith dialogue in some kind of academic, heady sense.
It’s not an intellectual exercise with Hizmet; it’s very much an interfacing of people sharing personal experiences, sharing how it feels when we pray, sharing what it feels like when we observe the fast, sharing what it feels like to be working together in service in the community… It’s a genuine interplay of ordinary people with each other, sharing what is really important to them, rather than having heady conversations about what is true about God or what is true about the world, and I really appreciate that.
In terms of the quality of education being offered by the Hizmet Movement in Turkey and around the world, I’m not really in the position to pass judgment on the quality of the educational experience.
What I do know is that people of faith and people of compassion, around the world, are always wanting to improve the quality of education, especially for those people who don’t have access to quality education.
So, it seems to me that people of faith who are really passionate about what they believe will always be involved in trying to provide good schools, good colleges and universities to make sure that there is an open atmosphere for research and inquiry, that we’re not a doctrinaire community but we’re pushing children and young people to ask questions and explore the world. That’s what I have observed in the Hizmet schools.
In terms of my experience of people in Turkey and visiting Turkey, I think, what my visit to Turkey—I’ve been twice now—on both occasions I’ve been struck by two things:
One is the reality that many people in Europe and in North America have very little knowledge of the people of Turkey and the history of Turkey. And, for Christians that’s really absurd because so much of our Christian history took place in the land which is now Turkey. And we really need to know a whole lot more. We should know; we should be better informed.
The second thing I would say though, and more importantly, my experience in Turkey was of people who were really open and welcoming. Hospitality is the name of the game.
The warmth and generous spirit that I experienced among Turkish people was unlike anything I’ve experienced anywhere else. And I’d say that’s particularly true with people who didn’t speak any English, and I don’t speak any Turkish; I still experience great warmth.
I want to say something about the relationships between Christians and Muslims because I think, at this point in history, it’s really really important that Christians and Muslims are understanding each other.
For so much of our history, we haven’t understood each other well.
We’re seeing a resurgence of suspicion and fear and even hate from both the Christian side and the Muslim side, and I’m very disturbed about many of the things going on in different parts of the world with both Christians and Muslims who are expressing anger and violence towards each other.
So, I believe that what Hizmet is doing and what those of us in the Christian world and in other religious traditions are doing in building connections and relationships is vitally important, not only for us and for our interaction with each other but for the wider world community.
I really believe that we can teach the world a different way of operating so that we don’t operate simply out of fear and violence and suspicion but rather out of mutual affirmation and sharing and love and compassion and working together to build a different kind of world, whether we’re talking about our local neighborhood or our schools or our community institutions but around the world we can stop 13 thousand children dying every day in the world, if we work together on this task.
We can eradicate diseases from around the world. There are so many things we can do when we work in partnership with each other, and we are, indeed, people of the Book. We share a lot of tradition in common; we are a praying people, we are a compassionate people. So, let’s work on it together rather than separately, and let’s not spend too much time understanding each other but rather just being sisters and brothers together and getting on with the work that God has called us to do.
**Profile: Alan Jones is the Senior Pastor at St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Sacramento since 2011. He has Master’s in Religious Studies at University of Cambridge. He completed Doctor of Ministry at the Claremont School of Theology. He has also attained training in psychotherapy, marriage and family therapy.
*Produced by Spectra Media exclusively for Irmak TV, Atlas of Thoughts (Fikir Atlasi) connects the scholars, politicians, jurists, religious figures, journalists, and academics reflecting on Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen and the Hizmet Movement with the audience. Each episode features a person from a different segment of the society with diverse experiences regarding the Hizmet activities and its volunteers. If you are interested to hear about the Hizmet and Mr. Gulen from these people’s perspectives, do not miss this show!