Last month, about three weeks after the attack on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, we had the privilege of hosting a group of youth from Islamic Foundation North (IFN) who came to CPC to visit a church and learn more about Christianity. They got to explore our sanctuary, learned about our sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, and asked questions about our worship services and the symbols they observed around the altar.
After that, we headed downstairs to the social hall and enjoyed some snacks together along with casual conversations around the tables with a mix of our people and their people at each. Our hunger for food satiated, we moved on to satisfy our hunger for understanding and common ground. Some of our members wanted to know why some of the women wore hijabs (head scarves) and some didn’t. The answers were as individual as the people giving them and some indicated that they weren’t sure whether their answer would be the same or different 10 years from now, which seems about right for a group of teenagers who are busy working out who they are and how they want to be in the world.
Imam Azfar, the spiritual leader of their mosque, informed the youth that I had been one of the first Christians to reach out to him and others at IFN after the Christchurch attacks and had joined them for Friday prayers the next day along with Rabbi Ari of Congregation Or Shalom. One of the students asked me something along the lines of: Why was it important to me as a Christian to stand with Muslims. I told the group that Christ stood with those who were hurting and that it’s important that we who live in free societies stand with those who believe differently than we do, especially if they’re in the minority.
On Easter Sunday the world was horrified by the bombings in Sri Lanka. Imam Azfar and Rabbi Ari both reached out to me immediately expressing their condolences and support. A week later, on the last day of Passover, another attack was made on a synagogue in California. Clearly evil has been emboldened by the divisive and hateful rhetoric. People everywhere of all faiths deserve to worship in safety and peace. When we stand with one another, we witness to God’s love. We can do that faithfully without compromising our own identity or beliefs. In this increasingly heterogeneous world where we live and interact with those of different beliefs, we must. The Kingdom of God is made real when we can stand alongside each other and share our sorrows, our joys, and… maybe some snacks.