A few months back, a young man wearing a leather jacket and a tentative but luminous smile walked into our church. He introduced himself as Mohammed and shared in accented English that he had recently emigrated from Iraq, leaving his family behind. He was looking for a house of faith within walking distance of his new home down the street.
“You know this is a church, right? That we are Christian?” I asked, thinking that surely someone named Mohammed was Muslim and, therefore, in search of a mosque.
“A church, a synagogue, a mosque–all are places to worship God, yes?” he smiled.
I couldn’t help but grin back, feeling a bit sheepish that I’d worried he would feel out of place. My congregation doubled down on my sheepishness as they welcomed him without a second thought; they shower him with hugs and bring him coffee whenever he walks through the door.
I’ve wondered over the last few months how many other churches would respond this way given the current political climate.
Around the time Wheaton College professor Larycia Hawkins took on wearing a hijab during Advent as a sign of solidarity with her Muslim sisters, a former classmate of mine posted this article lamenting the same practice in a Chicago suburban high school. The tone of both responses was one of fear and loathing: what damage will these dangerous infidels do to our impressionable young people?
The irony, of course, is that most major branches of Christianity don’t consider Muslims to be infidels–literally, “unfaithful”–at all.
Wheaton College cited Professor Hawkins’ claim that Muslims and Christians worship the same God as grounds for her termination-in-process; but as the Christian Century pointed out, even the most orthodox among our faith have, historically, called Muslims heretics–“a harsh term, but one reserved for those who say the wrong things about the right God.”
On the more receptive end of the spectrum, renowned theologian Mirsolav Volf argues for a pluralistic understanding between Islam and Christianity in line with Professor Hawkins’ stance–as does Pope Francis.
During a recent Facebook debate about the aforementioned article, a Muslim friend texted asking me to explain the Holy Spirit–she wanted to be able to respond intelligently to accusations that she didn’t believe in the Trinity. Her request reminded me that there are, indeed, substantive differences between Islam and Christianity which shape our respective traditions in rich, distinctive ways. (Side note: don’t try explaining the third Person of the Trinity over text unless you have unlimited text messaging.)
But Mohammed’s faithful church attendance has reminded me that the most important thing, to so many people, is finding a community of welcome and solidarity, no matter the religion.
That is, I believe, what Professor Hawkins and the hijab-wearing high schoolers were trying to create for Muslims facing hatred and harassment. It’s also what Jesus was trying to create as he shared the pain of so many facing rejection and other-ness in his own time.
As Christians, are we not called to do the same?
Rev. Leah Lyman Waldron is a thrift-vangelist, writer, preacher, preacher’s wife, mama, and Midwesterner transplanted to the South. She has a not-so-secret passion for pop music and loves being the lone millenial in her baby boomer-filled yoga class. Born & raised UCC, she’s bi-vocational, preaching at Decatur UCC in Atlanta every other Sunday while doing admin work at a big Presbyterian church during the week. She blogs at http://thriftshopchic.com.