Thursday, July 19, 2012

Strangers And Aliens In Two Tennessee Towns

He (God) loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners...   Deuteronomy 10:18-19

Back in 2009, Pastor Steve Stone of the Heartsong Church in Cordova, Tennessee, learned that local Muslims had bought property across the street from their church.

According to a September, 2011, Sojourner article, “Peace Be Unto Them” Stone decided the right response would be to show them some Christian hospitality, Southern style. So he had a sign put up in front of the church,  

"Heartsong Church welcomes 
the Memphis Islamic Center 
to the neighborhood.”

This unexpected act of kindness was the start of a friendship between the two congregations that created quite a stir. Members of the Islamic Center and the Heartsong church began to have occasional carry-in meals together, worked at a homeless shelter, and otherwise neighbored with each other over the years. Upon learning that their Muslim friends needed a place to pray for Ramadan because their building wasn't ready, the church even opened up its doors to let them have their prayer services there.

Many people strongly criticized Heartsong for allowing people of another faith to pray in their church building, but Stone told Sojourners they were just doing what Jesus taught them, “to love their neighbors".

Meanwhile, two hundred miles away, when the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, posted a sign on their property announcing a new building, a vandal spray-painted "not welcome" on it and neighbors filed suit against the mosque -- arguing that the mosque was a terrorist training site in disguise. And when construction started, a vandal set fire to a backhoe and some other equipment.

When Jesus tells a story in Luke’s gospel to illustrate what it means to be God's kind of neighbor, he has the hero be a member of an alien religious and ethnic group, the Samaritans. These folks were despised by Jesus’ fellow Jews as being heretical outsiders, in spite of their claiming to worship the same God.

Today he might ask, “Which of these Tennessee towns were the real neighbors in this story?”
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