My name is Budd Friend Jones. I’m the senior minister at the 1st Congregational Church of Crystal Lake, which is a suburb of Chicago.
I’ve been there since 2006 and I’ve been an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ for 43 years.
One would have to say through an uncanny ability to build a global network of spiritually motivated people to bring people of different traditions into dialogue with each other, into conversation with each other about things that really matter—not about necessarily a practical decision of where to put this or that or how to pay for this or that—but what does life mean, and how can we work together to make a better life for more people... that seems to me to be at the heart of it.
The quality of the people that I see—men and women—who have been touched by the Gulen movement is just a testimony to the goodness of humankind.
We see so much that would cause us to despair today.
We see so much hatred and partisanship and politics and violence; it’s good to hear people who resist that and oppose that.
Just the emphasis on building community...
Martin Luther King Jr. left a manuscript of a novel that he had hoped to write. It was called “The World House”. And, in that, the story was to be that all the peoples of the world had inherited one house and they all had to go and live in it together. They had been separated for generations and they didn’t know each other but now they had to come together. And so his story was going to be how that was going to be.
In a way, I think that’s the gift of Fethullah Gulen... is that we are now living in a world house--like it or not we’re in a world house—and so how can we learn to love and respect and understand and cooperate with each other?
I often think about it as Turkish Islam but maybe it’s Hizmet... it is a kind of hospitality. There’s a great... maybe growing out of the Abrahamic traditions of that tent, Abraham’s tent that’s open on all the sides to all the peoples of the world... it seems to me that the Gulen Movement practices that.
They practice that in Japan with Shinto and Buddhists, they practice that in Chicago with Orthodox and Jews, they practice that in Salt Lake City with Mormons... so that sense of hospitality, that God’s welcome is so big and so gracious and so loving that there’s a place for all of us at the table. They mean that and they really work to help us realize that.
I’ve wondered about my own involvement in interfaith dialogue and particularly now with Muslims—not just with Muslims but with people of many faith traditions—and I realized that I—like many many people all over the world—grew up in a very narrow world where I only, basically, knew my own kind. I went to church and I played with kids who went to church and I went to school with kids who went to church and we didn’t get to know each other very well.
And, outside of that was this incredibly wonderful diverse world that I didn’t know about.
What about people of other faith traditions?
We were also taught that people of other faiths were lost and going to go to hell. If you didn’t accept Jesus that was too bad for you. So my job was to try to convert you to my faith so you wouldn’t go to hell.
If I loved you, I would try to save you.
That’s not very respectful of the traditions you come from, of your background, of what you’ve learned, and so, I’ve learned, over time, the wonders of dialogue, essentially to see that God’s world is so much bigger than my world, and God lives through and expresses God’s self through so many different means of expression.
Now, in Islam, there are Muslims who are very suspect of dialogue, of interfaith dialogue, even today.
I think—though I’ve heard many Muslims say ‘we are moving toward a post-conversion universe’ that’s not true for everybody. And there are many who will say, ‘if you get involved in interfaith dialogue, you’re really risking your soul and you’re really betraying the faith.’
Well, I just want to tell you, it’s not just happening in Islam; it happens in Christianity, the same thing is happening... the more we get involved in interfaith dialogue, the more some Christians say ‘be careful’, ‘those people are not right..’
It happens in every religion and so sometimes I think in order for there to be INTERfatih dialogue that’s significant, we all have to, at the same time, have INTRAfaith dialogue.
We have to be talking to people in our own traditions, about our own text, in our own approaches.
The Hizmet and the Gulen.. certainly in the Gulen writings for example, they’re based in Islam; they’re not based in any vague universal religion, they’re based in Islam.
He quotes the Qur’an, he quotes Hadith, he quotes Islamic tradition, stories, all of that... So, he’s having an internal dialogue and, at the same time, he’s talking to us, helping other Muslims to see that the world is a lot bigger maybe than they originally thought.
When the Niagara Foundation took a group from our church—and they did, they took a group of 18 from our church over to Turkey—they introduced us to this emphasis on education that’s so important in the Hizmet Movement.
We visited really fine science schools; we visited Fatih University; we visited elemantary schools; we went into laboratories. It was really a fantastic and eye-opening visit, and I learned that they don’t just have a few schools, that this is one of the primary emphasis of the movement, the emphasis on education.
As I said earlier, the emphasis on education of the very best minds—there’s clearly an emphasis on trying to get the very best minds into the schools—and an emphasis on science and math and modernity, an emphasis on the education of girls as well as boys so that women will have the same preparation as men do for the careers that lay ahead of them... That’s all really wonderful.
Hizmet works around the world to overcome poverty, and they do it in a very unique way, I think. In some ways, in a model way that could be emulated by others. By that I mean, they not only marshal resources—the Gulen movement certainly has access to money and influence, no question about that—they’re able to bring the money and the influence and the resources to bear on problems that are big and overwhelming. But they don’t do it in a necessarily bureaucratic or stand-offish way like, ‘here’s the money, now go make it right’, they back it up with volunteers.
That’s part of the movement; service. And so, people will go. So it’s person to person, heart to heart, with the support of the resources of the movement. Doctors will go where there’s a need for doctors.
I believe it’s true that there have been family-to-family kinds of support given in Kurdish regions of Turkey for example and in other areas…
Mennonites sometimes do that, in this country, a family will adopt a family. And that makes a lot of sense; if you’ve got a family that intact and managing well, it’s good that they can connect with maybe a family that’s a little bit challenged and needs some additional support.
They can work together.
Hizmet does that. So, I guess it’s a social movement, worldwide, with resources, that has a heart, and it’s the heart… And that’s Turkish isn’t it? That’s so Turkish. It’s always from the heart. It’s always from the heart.
So I know there’s a lot of suspicion. There’s suspicion in Turkey now because of all the conflict that’s going on over there, but, I’d say; by their fruits they are known.
I mean, Jesus said, ‘you know them by their fruits’, and so, I see in Chicago, there’s a deep deep commitment to interfaith dialogue, always bringing together people of different faiths; this worldwide movement to help people who are in desperate trouble; I see a commitment to excellence in education. What’s wrong with that? I don’t see anything wrong with that at all.
I think this is worth supporting with all of our energy. It’s by their fruit you will know them.
Or, I think, there’s a Russian proverb; Trust but verify.
I trust, and I think I encourage other people to trust. And, if things take a different turn, then we take a different turn. We understand that.
But, we’re living in the present and the present seems to me that this is a very spiritually-awakened, socially-responsible worldwide movement.
As someone who respects Turkey and loves Turkey and has many friends in Turkey, and I care so much, it hurts to see what’s happening right now in your country. The kind of harsh division and separation and the machinations and politics that are going on are harmful. They’re harmful in people’s perception of Turkey.
**Profile: Gilbert Friend Jones is the Senior Minister at the First Congregational Church of Chrystal Lake, IL. He serves as a board member of North American Interfaith Network. He finished Master of Divinity at Princeton Theological Seminary and his Doctorate of Ministry in Religion at Howard University School of Divinity, Washington.
*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!