Rev. Steve Stone was just trying to be a good neighbor.
Two years ago, the pastor of Heartsong Church in Cordova, Tennessee, on the outskirts of Memphis, learned that a local mosque had bought property right across the street from the church. So he decided some Southern hospitality was in order.
A few days later, a sign appeared in front of the church. "Heartsong Church welcomes Memphis Islamic Center to the neighborhood," it read.
That small act of kindness was the start of an unlikely friendship between the two congregations, one that made headlines around the world. Members of the mosque and church have shared meals together, worked at a homeless shelter, and become friends over the past two years. When Stone learned that his Muslim friends needed a place to pray for Ramadan because their building wasn't ready, he opened up the doors of the church and let them hold Ramadan prayers there.
Critics said that Stone was a heretic for allowing people of another faith to pray in his church building. He says he’s just doing what Jesus taught him to do. "Jesus told us to love our neighbors," Stone told Sojourners. "These people are actually neighbors."
The friendship between Heartsong and the Memphis Islamic Center comes at a time when Muslim-Christian relations have been testy. In communities from New York to California, from Wisconsin to Tennessee, proposed mosques have run into angry, organized opposition.
When the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, 200 miles east of Cordova, put a sign on their property announcing a new building, a vandal spray-painted the words "not welcome" on it. Neighbors filed suit against the mosque -- arguing that Islam is not a religion and that the mosque was a terrorist training compound in disguise. When construction started at the site, a vandal set fire to a backhoe and other equipment there.