Why We Opened Our Church to Muslims
In a recent article on Christianity Today's website, Jason Hood raised issues about inviting Muslims to share worship space with Christians. Hood, who is a scholar in residence at Christ United Methodist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, referred to our flock Heartsong and me. While I couldn't tell exactly where Hood stood on the issue, it seemed that he had decided that our decision to allow Muslims from the Memphis Islamic Center (MIC) to use our Celebration Center for Ramadan prayers was made off hand and without much, if any, theological reflection. Nothing could be further from the truth. My intention is not to refute Hood but to continue this important, maybe even crucial, dialogue.
As a Jesus-following tribe we could not be more evangelical and exclusivist when it comes to Jesus. We are 21st century Jesus freaks, and we fly that flag on T-shirts which many of us wore as we greeted the Muslims who came for Ramadan prayers each night. All we have ever done or will ever do is a witness to Jesus—his teaching, his life, his death and resurrection, and the presence of the Holy Spirit with, in, and through us.
Our Muslim brothers and sisters know this about us because we always speak of Jesus and our love for him, and our love for them because of him, every time we are with them. There was no trading of theologies. They are Muslims; we are Jesus followers; both of us are clear about that. Jesus said people would know we are his disciples by our love for one another, and that is just what is happening with the dear and gracious people of the MIC. They recognize us as people who have been with Jesus.
Allowing MIC to use our Celebration Center for prayer was done in the context of our relationship with them. We had been talking with them from the moment we knew they were moving next door to us. These were not enemies or strangers but neighbors, acquaintances, and friends. When they asked us if they could use our space, we felt honored because we knew they would never have dared ask us if they thought our answer might possibly be no. That spoke volumes to the quality of the neighborly love we had shared for almost two years.
They asked. So what do we do; how do we respond; on what basis? Our response has to be grounded in our love for Jesus and our commitment to follow only him. The first thing that came to me was the story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus intentionally chose as the hero of that story one whom his hearers would most "naturally" have feared and hated. He said that the one they despised out of hand is the very one who was the neighbor—the very one who fulfilled the second commandment. And then he told all who would hear to go and be that kind of neighbor. We heard.
Beyond that "no brainer" decision to love our neighbors was the question of how we would do so in the case of inviting them to use our worship space. No thought at all was given to the political ramifications of that decision, either regarding those among our flock who might disagree with it or anyone anywhere who might attack or applaud what we were doing. The decision was firmly based only on our understanding of the mission and nature of the church. The mission of the church is to partner with Jesus to help as many who are lost and spiritually homeless as we possibly can make it home to him and his tribe (the church). The stated mission of Heartsong is: "Reaching out to the unreached as growing Jesus followers helping others to become growing Jesus followers." We are neither interested, nor involved in doing anything else.