Loving our neighbors is usually easier in the abstract. The members of Heartsong Church, just outside of Memphis, Tennessee, made that love very real last year in a concrete act of welcome. An Islamic faith community was moving in nearby, and their new center wasn’t going to be ready in time for Ramadan. So the members of Heartsong, in a simple act of Christian hospitality, invited their neighbors to use the church building during the Muslim holy month.
Unfortunately, such loving actions between Christians and Muslims seem to be the exception these days. In nearby Rutherford County, just southeast of Nashville, residents -- most of them Christian -- blocked a mosque planned by the Islamic community. "Why do they hate us?" a child asked the local imam, Ossama Bahloul, according to a reporter. "I said it's just a misunderstanding, miscommunication," Bahloul said. "I told him to love the people because one day they can love you, too."
When we asked Bob Smietana, an award-winning religion writer for The Tennessean, to visit Heartsong Church this summer and write about their interfaith bridge-building, Smietana responded, "A happy Muslim-Christian story? I'm in."
The ripples from Heartsong's outreach have been felt around the world. A group of Muslims in a small town in Kashmir, the disputed region near the border of India and Pakistan with much Muslim-Christian tension, saw a report on CNN about the actions of the Tennessee church. Heartsong's pastor, Steve Stone, told Sojourners that one of the Muslim leaders said, after watching the CNN segment, "God just spoke to us through this man." Another said, "How can we kill these people?" A third man, according to Stone, went straight to the local Christian church and cleaned it, inside and out. The Muslims in Kashmir, following Heartsong's neighborly example, told Stone, "We are now trying to be good neighbors, too. Tell your congregation we do not hate them, we love them, and for the rest of our lives we are going to take care of that little church."
The events of 9/11 and the decade since have been a vivid and painful illustration of the consequences of vengeance and retribution. A small group of believers in Tennessee has offered a much-needed example of what can happen instead when we reach out in love to our neighbors, nearby and around the world.