The presidents and first ladies of two Southern Baptist seminaries were the guests of leaders, or sheiks, of one of Israel’s largest Druze communities, July 12. Sheik Frais Abumunthir Swaid welcomed to his home Chuck and Rhonda Kelley from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Paige and Dorothy Patterson from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. They were joined by Sheiks Anis Abusaleh Kablan and Jamel Harbe, and by Southwestern Seminary Provost Craig Blaising and his wife Diane.
Over fresh fruit and Turkish coffee, the sheiks discussed with the seminarians the Druze and Christian faiths. The seminary presidents were particularly encouraged that the talks furthered relationships between their respective communities.
“Their hospitality offered one of the friendliest and most gracious receptions I have ever experienced,” Chuck Kelley said.
“Their hospitality was extraordinary,” Paige Patterson added, noting that Turkish coffee is particularly smooth. “Even after two cups of Turkish coffee it was possible to maintain clear-headedness no matter how weary one might be.”
With religious roots in Islam by way of Egypt, the Druze people in Israel are Arabic in culture and language. The Institute of Druze Studies in San Diego estimates there are more than one million Druze in the Middle East, with just over 100,000 living peacefully in Israel. The institute estimates about 20,000 Druze live in the United States with the largest concentration in California.
Patterson said that the Druze religion remains essentially a mystery to outsiders, and even so for many of its uninitiated followers. “However, the sheiks were quick to affirm the prophetic status not only of their own prophets but also of Mohammed, Elijah and other Jewish prophets, and Jesus,” he said.
Kelley said that the Baptists shared that Jesus is more than a prophet. “We pointed particularly to the question of judgment in the end times as a time when both groups believe there will be a final reckoning,” Kelley said. “The nature of acceptance with God at that time of judgment was discussed.”At the end of their time together, the Pattersons extended an invitation to the sheiks to visit the United States and be their guests at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth.