Memphis Church Hosts Ramadan
In an interesting story made more intriguing by its setting, last year a church in the Bible belt joyfully agreed to host Ramadan. The Memphis Islamic Center was closed for renovations, sending the leaders of the mosque looking for an alternate venue with relatively little notice. Having a hard time finding a place that could host nightly prayer events during the month-long festival, Muslim leaders turned to their next-door neighbor, Heartsong Church. They asked pastor Steve Stone if he would be willing to rent them a small space in one of the wings of the church. He did them one better, inviting them to pray in the congregation’s main sanctuary. He even put up a nice welcome banner outside the church, and church members volunteered to help with the logistics of the services.
Of course, this move was not without controversy. The leadership of the church took a lot of flak for the generous gesture, although in the end only twenty or so members decided to move on. Commenting on those who decided to leave, Stone says: “We had tried to work with them and think their way through it but at the end of the day, if they really believed what they said they believed, we’re kind of glad they left, because we didn’t want them going out into the community and saying, ‘We have these hateful feelings and we go to Heartsong Church.’”
The Memphis Islamic Center is now complete, but the two religious groups continue to have friendly ties. They gather once a month to help the homeless in their neighborhood and plans are under way for a park that sit on both the mosque’s and the church’s properties. You can read or listen online to an NPR story about this harmonious relationship.
I’m curious: what do you think about this story? Did the church do the right thing given the circumstances? Why or why not? If you were a pastor or elder, would you be in favor of such an arrangement?
Here’s my take:
First, allow me to say that most Christian churches, and Christians in general, have far too few interactions with Muslims. Truth be told, I think there is a phobia at play here. I think that followers of Christ should be going out of their way to love their Muslim neighbors. This would include, for instance, attending a late-night Ramadan dinner, something I once did in East Jerusalem. It was fantastic. It would also include doing anything possible to help our Muslim neighbors who are in need, or partnering with them to alleviate tangible needs in the community. Christians should be able to affirm goodness wherever it may be found.
I don’t think, however, that we should go as far as Heartsong Church. I think my point could be argued from many theological and biblical standpoints. I offer just a brief reflection based on one biblical passage. This is not meant to be iron-clad nor comprehensive. In 1 Cor 8-10 the apostle Paul is instructing the Corinthian believers on living life in a multi-cultural setting. Specifically at issue is whether or not the Corinthian Christians could participate in feasts, the meat for which had been previously offered to idols. Paul offers his most direct advice in 10:26-29 when he says:
26 For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” 27 If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience— 29 I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience?
Obviously the situation is different from that of Heartsong Church, but I believe the logic applies all the more. How can hosting and even providing greeters for the worship services of a religion that explicitly denies the lordship of Jesus Christ, not possibly give the impression to Christians, Muslims, and those who are neither, that you have no serious objection to what is happening in the aforementioned worship service? And if you have no serious objection to what is happening in the worship of a God who is not the blessed trinity, are you really a Christian? Wasn’t the apostle Paul himself eminently disturbed as he walked through an Athens that did not worship the one true God? (Acts 17:16)
Anyways, I’m genuinely interested to hear what you have to say, whether it is in agreement or contradiction to what I have written. Leave a comment or write a blog post of your own and I’ll throw up a link to it here in this post. Just email me.