As professional religion reporters looked back on 2010, they ranked the debate over an Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero—along with a pastor's threat to burn the Qur'an—as the year's top story. The threat of Qur'an burning has dropped out of the headlines. But loud opposition to construction of Islamic centers continues across the country. Outside of Manhattan, metro Nashville became the most prominent of the local controversies (which were legion). Brentwood residents successfully quashed plans for a mosque in their town as plans to convert a historic theater in Antioch into an Islamic center continued despite local opposition. But it was Murfreesboro that got the most attention from national media, the Justice Department, and local politicians. A court has ruled that construction of an Islamic center there can continue, but a legal challenge is ongoing.
Meanwhile, some churches have modeled a much more welcoming approach. At Heartsong Church in Cordova, Tennessee, Steve Stone and his congregants put out a sign welcoming incoming neighbors at the Memphis Islamic Center. The church then allowed these Muslim neighbors to use their sanctuary as a makeshift mosque throughout Ramadan while the Islamic Center was under construction. Stone and Heartsong received extensive national media coverage for their efforts.
For Stone, allowing Muslims to worship on his church's property was a matter of "What would Jesus do?"—a matter of his United Methodist congregation modeling the love of Jesus to strangers, just as Jesus had welcomed them.
Another United Methodist pastor 900 miles away came to a similar conclusion when a neighboring Islamic congregation asked to use his church's space for five months of Friday prayers. ...