This will make my third Islam-centric blog post in four days, but I wanted to share one more great news story with you. I hadn’t heard of this until a commenter (Rob the Rev) shared it in response to yesterday’s post.
Heartsong Church in Cordova, Tennessee (outside Memphis) has been sharing its church building with Muslims from the Memphis Islamic Center. The Islamic center sits right next door to the church, and they are constructing a multimillion-dollar complex. Because the Muslims’ worship hall was not completed, Heartsong opened its doors to them so they had a place to pray every night during Ramadan, which ended last Friday.
From the USA Today article:
When pastor Steve Stone initially heard of the mosque and Islamic center being erected on the sprawling land adjacent his church, his stomach tightened.
Then he raised a 6-foot sign reading, “Welcome to the Neighborhood.”
The issue for Stone and the 550-person Heartsong Church in Cordova, came down to one question:
“What would Jesus do if He were us? He would welcome the neighbor,” Stone said.
A few hours east, people in Murfreesboro have been protesting a similar Islamic center in their community. In May, residents of Brentwood, Tennessee, shut down plans for a mosque there — complete with insinuations about the mosque’s leaders having terrorism ties. Also, apparently, there something in the news about a mosque in lower Manhattan.
So what happened in Memphis? Apparently, instead of letting fear and suspicion take control, Christians began thinking like Jesus. They practiced hospitality and exercised humility.
“I’ve got fear and ignorance in me, too,” the pastor told a reporter. But when Stone learned the Islamic center had purchased the land next to the church a year and a half ago, he fought that fear and instead got a big red banner that said “Heartsong Church welcomes Memphis Islamic Center to the neighborhood.”
From a GNN.com report:
When members of the new center saw the sign, they felt a little abashed that they hadn’t made the first gesture, said center trustee and communications director Danish Siddiqui.
“The Quran tells us to be good neighbors. We felt we kind of fell short and should have done that on our own,” he said.
The two institutions kept up their relationship, talking about a possible social gathering and watching the construction progress. As this Ramadan approached, the progress proved insufficient, and the Islamic Center found itself homeless during the season of fasting and prayer.
The congregation brainstormed.
“What if we ask the church if we could rent some space from them?” Siddiqui remembered.
Stone said no. “You’re going to be our guest. We don’t want any money. … That’s part of being a good neighbor.”
That’s incredible. The goodwill gestures on both sides have helped break down barriers between the two congregations. I doubt you’ll see any conversions one way or another, but what you will see is conversation, and friendship, and mutual understanding between devout religious people. It’s iron sharpening iron.
I’m sure there will be some Christians — people who are otherwise kind and generous — who will be very uncomfortable with the idea of allowing another religion to worship in a sacred Christian space. (Especially a religion Christians have been taught to view as false, at best, and demonic, at worst.)
But I see nothing but good things coming from this kind of no-strings-attached hospitality and radical grace, and I hope we’ll begin to see more of it.
I’m deeply impressed by Pastor Steve Stone and Heartsong Church — despite the goofy church name — and I can’t imagine any better way to improve the religiously divisive world we live in.
• Read Heartsong Pastor Steve Stone’s blog.
• Here’s a great post by Rachel Held Evans on loving our Muslim neighbors unconditionally.