Our church welcomes Muslims

I was interviewed recently for an article in Interpreter Magazine, a product of the United Methodist Church. It’s the cover article for Sept/Oct and the online version just dropped.

Woodridge UMC is one of three churches discussed in the article who are opening their doors to Muslim groups, including for them to worship. Here’s a taste:

Ten years after terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, the interfaith friendship between Woodridge and Irshad offers hope in the unpredictable seas of Christian-Muslim relations.

A vital United Methodist congregation is involved in interreligious and ecumenical work, says the Rev. Stephen J. Sidorak Jr., general secretary of the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, the denomination’s ecumenical agency. [read more]

I don’t know that our two groups sharing space is enough to “offer hope” on any grander scale than the local. But maybe the local scale is the most important one to act in?

At any rate, I’m thankful I don’t sound like a complete imbecile in the article. (Or at least I hope I don’t. Difficult to judge such things about oneself, no?)

More importantly, I’m thankful our church said “yes” to Irshad, thankful we have a good relationship with each other, thankful our story is being told to a national audience. Perhaps other Christian churches will be moved by the congregations in the article and inspired to find their own ways to create good interfaith relationships.

As I’m sure you’ve guessed, a story like this one includes an opposing voice de rigueur. This time it’s a person named Jason Hood, a writer for Christianity Today online who posted this back in January. (Comments are closed for that post, so I have no interaction with Mr. Hood to offer you.)

Still, I can tell you exactly where Mr. Hood and I disagree. He asks, “Does facilitation of false worship violate the love command?”

Really? False worship? Ugh. Way to denigrate about a third of the world’s people, Mr. Hood. I believe Muslims honor God and of course God hears their prayers.

Even if you can’t agree with me about that, at the very least, shouldn’t we treat our Muslim neighbors the way we want to be treated? isn’t that what Jesus taught and lived? Would we who follow God in the way of Jesus want our way called false? Or would we hope for a more gracious response from neighbors of another faith?

There is plenty actual evil in the world and far, far too many people living in hell on earth for us to go around looking to make enemies out of good faithful folks.

Some Christians walked into a temple, a mosque and a synagogue…

Last week I had the privilege of accompanying four of my church’s Confirmands on the Northern IL Conference Bishop’s Interfaith Youth Bus Tour. We were part of a group of more than 70 teenagers from across the Conference who visited a Hindu temple (which I learned is called a Mandir), a Muslim mosque and a Jewish synagogue. It was a long day to be sure, but it was fun and informative and our young people were engaged throughout.

You can read the full NIC article about the Tour, but here’s a money quote:

Organizers say one of the goals of this interfaith bus trip was to nurture and develop our future young leaders who are living in a more diverse and pluralistic society.

Reflecting on what they enjoyed about their experience our Confirmands said:

I like how the buildings reflected their beliefs: the carvings in the welcoming area were images of welcoming. The carvings in the worship area were images of their deities.

I enjoyed taking my shoes off [required of all who entered the worship space both in the Mandir and in the mosque], it made me feel at home and comfortable.

I didn’t know there were so many names for God. I thought it was just, you know, ‘God’. Or maybe ‘Jehovah’ or something.

Asked if anything made them uncomfortable, they said:

There were some weird things [happening during the Hindu prayer service] that I didn’t understand…that made me feel uncomfortable.

I was disappointed that I got skipped during the ‘flame thing’ at the temple.

And that, my friends, is what we trained professionals like to call a teachable moment!

“So, do you think people ever don’t understand what’s happening in our worship services at WUMC? What might make someone uncomfortable or disappointed during our worship?” I asked.

Maybe during Communion!

Yeah, like if someone was skipped during Communion or didn’t know what to do!

Or if they were skipped when we pass stuff in the pews.

It’s always exciting and a joy when young people think critically and earnestly about their faith and their experience of their faith! I’m proud of them all!

[This post is a revised version of what I write almost-weekly for my congregation‘s eNewsletter. Over there it’s called The View from the Dance Floor.]