I just finished writing a few notes of love and support to Muslim Centers and Alliances in my local area. With all the hatred toward people of the Islamic faith around our nation and even in Indiana, I felt called to reach out in love and support to our Muslim neighbors. In fact, a local mosque shared on social media that several individuals and families had written notes of support to them. I thought this was a great idea.
There are too many people writing negative things about our neighbors both on social media and directly to them through the mail and other means. I read recently that hate crimes against American Muslims are at the highest level since the weeks following September 11th, 2001.
My faith calls me to stand with my neighbors, actually, Jesus tells us to “Love your neighbors.” That’s the Gospel. It’s simple. Love your neighbors. I don’t understand how so many others can forget that as we interact with people of other faiths who live near us. As a Christian, I cannot standby as our neighbors live in fear, especially our neighbors who are people of faith. I am called to be a person of love and a person of peace, but to really love and live in peace with my neighbor, I have to reach out and get to know others.
In my previous appointment, in rural Indiana, I sensed a call to help my congregation understand other religions and get to know their neighbors. During the month of September in 2011, as we prayed for peace on the 10th Anniversary of September 11th, my congregation welcomed a lay leader from a Jewish Community in Lafayette, IN, a Buddhist monk from the Indiana Buddhist Center, a Brethren Christian Peacemaker from northern Indiana and four students from the Purdue Muslim Student Association.
All the presenters were wonderful, but the students from Purdue were amazing. They arrived to a packed Fellowship Hall of over 100 people. As they walked into our small church, I immediately became aware of the significance of this moment. I admit that I was a little nervous for them, for me and for our community. This had never been done before. I didn’t know how people would respond to their presence and presentation.
The students of the Purdue Muslim Student Association were wonderful. As I introduced them, I shared that most of the people in the room that night had much in common with the students, as they were all Boiler fans, something that I am not. The students spoke with gentleness and kindness as they shared their faith so openly with our congregation and the many community members who came to hear their presentation on the basic tenets of Islam. That night was a great success, not because of anything I did, but because of the openness and kindness of the students and those who came.
We had the opportunity to meet our neighbors. It was night filled with conversation and questions, but all done with respect and kindness. I would strongly encourage every pastor and every congregation in Indiana to invite your Muslim neighbors to come and share at your church. Have a meal. Sit down and talk. It’s amazing how the barriers can be torn when we actually stand next to, sit with, and listen to our neighbors.