Church welcomes new neighbor, a mosque

By David Waters Glenn Beck and Franklin Graham, take note. Members of a Methodist congregation in the heart of Tea … Continued

By David Waters

Glenn Beck and Franklin Graham, take note. Members of a Methodist congregation in the heart of Tea Party country are showing their fellow Christians how to respond faithfully to Muslim neighbors who want to exercise their God- and Constitution-given rights to worship freely in America.

Rev. Steve Stone and members of Heartsong United Methodist Church in suburban Memphis recently found out that a large mosque and Islamic center was going up next next door. They were a bit anxious about it, but Stone and members of Heartsong followed their faith instead of giving into their fear.

They erected a 6-foot sign that read: ‘Welcome to the Neighborhood.’ Then they invited their new neighbors to use their facilities for evening prayers during Ramadan. “What would Jesus do if He were us?” Stone explained to Lindsay Melvin of The Commercial Appeal. “He would welcome the neighbor.”

That might suprise those of you who think Franklin Graham’s brand of loathe-but-work-with-your-neighbor evangelicalism represents many if not most Christians south of the Mason-Dixon line. But it’s really Rick Warren’s brand of love-and-work-with-your-neighbor evangelicalism that dominates most churches across the South.

“I always thought Christians were misunderstood until I started hearing about Muslims,” Warren, pastor of a Southern Baptist megachurch in California, told the Muslim Public Affairs Council late last year. “Al-Qaeda no more represents Islam than the Klu Klux Klan represents Christianity.”

That most Klan members considered themselves to be righteous Christians is well known. What is lesser known is that the Klan, particularly in the South, not only terrorized African-Americans and Jews but also white Catholics, Pentecostals and Mormons.

Islamophobia is just the latest version of that sort of faith-based fear and ignorance. You hear it in anti-Muslim statements by people who are otherwise probably good, decent and pleasant folks.

After a suspicious fire late last month at the construction site of a controversial new mosque in Murfreesboro, Tenn., local resident and churchgoer Kimberly Kelly was quoted as saying her Muslim neighbors deserved such treatment. “I think it was a piece of their own medicine,” she said. “They bombed our country.”

Of course, neither Ms. Kelly’s Muslim neighbors in Middle Tennessee nor Muslims worldwide bombed our country. The political extremists who did bomb our country nine years ago thought the same way Ms. Kelly did — that they were giving us a piece or our own medicine.

That sort of faith-based anxiety will be overcome, slowly but surely, by the sort of faith-based decency, common sense and hospitality exhibited by Stone and his congregation.

“The First Amendment guarantees people the right to worship where they live,” Dr. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said after the recent fire in Murfreesboro. “I am calling for all people of faith and good will to stand up for the rights of our Muslim fellow citizens.”

No doubt it’s the American way, but it’s also the Christian way, isn’t it?

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  • garrafa10

    “Islamophobia is just the latest version of that sort of faith-based fear and ignorance. You hear it in anti-Muslim statements by people who are otherwise probably good, decent and pleasant folks.”Dear Mr. Waters, you are a profound reader of human hearts, but what if some of us have plenty of experience dealing with Muslims and Islamic countries and are not at all afraid of the religion of peace? What if, on the contrary, some of us would like to speak to Islam and Muslims in their own language, forthrightly and uncompromisingly?

  • WmarkW

    The Quran contains many disgraceful ideas (the intolerance of non-Muslims, advocacy of violence, treatment of women) that are still used by some people today.Tell us what is the correct way to protest its contents, even if millions of peace-loving upright individuals consider it holy.

  • magrat_2000

    WmarkW – The bible also contains similiar ideas such as teh intolerance of non-believers, the advocacy of violence, and treatment of women. In the Old Testament God punishes the israelites for following the wrong religionChristian interpretations of the New Testament led to centuries of vilification and persecution of the Jews. I could go on and give you a whole heap of passages about violence and women, but I hope you get my point. Should we also protest (or burn the Bible)?

  • Secular

    magrat_2000 you wrote, “WmarkW – The bible also contains similiar ideas such as teh intolerance of non-believers, the advocacy of violence, and treatment of women”. This is what I call the false equivalence syndrome, that inflicts a significant portion of the western leftists. Mind you I am a lefty too. I am what you would say as left as left can be. Without a doubt bible is a despicable piece of utter crap. I say that time and time again. But given the zeitgeist of the west, it is by and large a dead book. We gather our morals from more secular sources than it. Whatever morals and ethics drawn from it are a subset acceptable in the civil society. That does not mean that there arent still substantial numbers who do look at it with reverence and also pull nonsense out of it to justify their bigotry, etc, etc. However, when someone uses bible to voice to their bigotry there are a thousand people who condemn it and take the bigot to task. So much so, often the bigot feigns a insincere apology or two. Such is the transformation of our society away from the biblical society. Whereas this is not the case with islamic societies. Even the so called moderates feel that they need to rationalize the extremists actions, rather than unequivocally condemning them. In short bible in the west for the most part is not an operating manual or provide guidance to life in its entirety. Where as koran is. All you have to do is look at the YouTube islamic video clips to get the full flavor of the influence the koran has on islamic psyche. Frankly I am tired of you, the mushy headed western liberals on this subject.

  • ayanleh

    I am a Muslim who goes to Friday prayers at the basement of Church every week. From a minimal amount of rent, the church opened their doors for us and allowed about 200 Muslims to pray at their Church every Friday for our weekly congregational prayers. We pray about 2 blocks from the White House but I am sure our media would not be interested in showing how, as Americans, we often extend our hand to each other. At a time when we have so many people suffering, we need to find ways to help each other. I am sad but not surprised by the Republicans attempts to sow fear of the ‘other’ in order to win votes. They have previously demonized African-Americans, Latinos and gays/lesbians. Fear helps them win votes and our media does very little to call them on it. I plan to work with my fellow Christians to assist with serving the homeless in DC. I believe this would get a closer to God. Let God be the judge of our final actions and intentions.

  • thomasmc1957

    All the Right Wing has to offer this country is hatred and bigotry. Their goal is to destroy, not build up, just like Osama bin Laden. America is bigger than that, and the Christian bigots will go the way of the KKK.

  • chgeorge

    With reference to the post observing that, and I quote, “The Quran contains many disgraceful ideas…”Did you ever take a close look at the King James version of the Holy (Christian) Bible?Deuteronomy 17:1-5 briefly commands that if you know of anyone who has served or worshiped other Gods, you must bring that person forward to be communally stoned to death.How about Leviticus 24:16 which commands that anyone blaspheming the name of the Lord shall be put to death, also by stoning.Perhaps you missed Exodus 21:17 which states that he that curseth his father or his mother shall surely be put to death. There are many more.Are these many death penalties not “disgraceful ideas” in any contemporary context? The essential point is that modern doctrines of faith have put aside such antiquated cruelties but observed the principle ideas of good and bad. That is true of all three Abrahamic religions. But there are a very few literalists, especially among the Muslims and Haredi (or Hasidic) Jews who want to preserve and observe the letter of the law, so to speak. They are the ones we call “extremists” and they are the ones who cannot integrate into societies structured around post-Enlightenment Western values. The Hasidic Jews do not have an evangelical streak, a compulsion to convert others to their regimens, so they can be tolerated as a harmless and well-behaved minority. It’s the evangelical streak in Islam that causes all our problems with Islamists. Who the heck really cares if Muslims want to live by Sharia law within their own nations, as long as they leave us alone?chgeorge

  • phjesuswarrior7

    All over the world the Methodist Church and Muslims have interfaith relationships. I do not see the big deal about welcoming a neighbor of another faith, it does not change the belief of either. on that day the Muslims did not stop committing terrorist acts against other Muslims. On that day the United Methodist Church did not unite with all other Methodist in this country. I have lived in neighborhoods all my life where I had at least one neighbor that was not Christian. Some was pleasant some was not, everyone has a right to his or her beliefs. And most all beliefs have anyone who does not believe going to hell.