by Esther Good
Following the terrorist attacks in Paris, France in November, and in San Bernardino, California in December, many have struggled with the question of how we should relate to our Muslim neighbors. Tensions have remained high, exacerbated by the election season, and the answer to this question has reared its head in the form of some ugly anti-Islamic sentiment, including harassment and acts of vandalism against mosques in the Philadelphia area and around the country. Several congregations in Franconia Conference have asked this question in a different way: How can we relate to our Muslim neighbors in a way that is Christ-like?
Philadelphia Praise Center (PPC) is one congregation that has a long history of interacting with its surrounding Muslim community. Shortly after PPC was first started in 2006, Pastor Aldo Siahaan, himself an immigrant from Indonesia, reached out to the Imam of a group of Indonesian Muslims and offered them the use of the church building for evening prayers during Ramadan. They didn’t accept his invitation that year, but called back the following year and asked to use the space, beginning a longstanding friendship between PPC and what is now Masjid Al Falah.
Lindy Backues, an elder at PPC, joined the church when he and his family were deported from Indonesia after living there for 18 years. “I’ve been ‘sent home’. I know what that feels like,” he says in response to national comments against Muslim immigrants. “I don’t want to send Muslims ‘home’. They’re my friends. So at PPC, we’re trying to be different—to reach out to visitors and guests and the sojourner in our midst. In the process of receiving the other, we become who we are, because God received us when we were the other.”
Salford Mennonite Church also has a longstanding relationship with its Muslim neighbors which began when Salford reached out to them in friendship after the events of 9/11. Out of that gesture began a close relationship with a family from Lebanon who lives nearby. And in turn, that family has walked alongside and assisted Salford as it has resettled Muslim refugees from Iraq and Iran.
After recent Islamophobic rhetoric hit national news, Salford contacted the Imam of North Penn Mosque. “We had a meeting to express that as Christians we desire to have a relationship with him and his community,” says Joe Hackman, Lead Pastor. “We want to let them know that we’re there for them to offer support in whatever form they might need. As Anabaptists, we know what it is to be persecuted because of our faith. So it makes sense that we would want to protect other religious minorities who are experiencing persecution.”
For Doylestown Mennonite Church, which has recently become a co-sponsor for a Muslim refugee family from Afghanistan, the decision to reach out was simply an act of love, says KrisAnne Swartley, Minister for the Missional Journey. “This is just a way for us to live out faithfulness to Jesus.”
The Bible is full of verses regarding loving our neighbors. In Mark 12 as Jesus is questioned by the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem they ask what the greatest commandment is, to which Jesus answers in verse 30-31, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” It is great to see Franconia Conference churches living their faith by loving their neighbors.
Esther Good is a member at Whitehall Mennonite Church.