Guest commentary by Brent Barry
Over the last year, members of NorthPark Presbyterian Church (where I serve in Dallas) have developed a friendship with members of Masjid al-Islam and the Islamic Association of North Texas.
Three times we have broken bread as Muslims and Christians at both mosque and church. We have talked about everything from headscarves to communion wine, from the legacy of MLK to the relationship between faith and politics.
We have participated in service projects together, our youth have met together and now we are planning more joint service projects and an interfaith worship service. In the process of all of this, Muslims who used to be a “them” have become an “us.”
While the Muslims from Masjid al-Islam are mostly African-American, the church is also located very close to the Vickery Meadow area of Dallas where many of our city’s refugees live, and that has been a chance to get to know more Muslims from all over the world.
Through all of my relationships, I have listened to the stories about the bullying of Muslims that goes unreported on the news and have heard about the fear they have in certain parts of town. I have learned of the different stigmas African-American Muslims and Middle Eastern Muslims each carry. I have listened to refugees talk about the thoroughly exhaustive process it takes to get a visa.
Most tragic of all, I know Muslim refugees in this country whose immediate family members will likely die if President Trump carries through with the executive order to stop the entry of refugees from majority Muslim countries. These refugees are not just a problem to be solved, because they now have a face to me.
At our last Muslim-Christian luncheon at church, one Muslim man got up to speak and he said with great passion that we have no idea how much it means when a Christian gives encouragement to a Muslim.
I have heard the reasons from Christian brothers and sisters as to why I should fear Muslims: Muslims have a clandestine agenda to create Shariah Law. The Koran is a text of nothing but violence. Muslims hate Jews. Muslims want to kill all non-Muslims.
My first thought in my very reactionary brain when I hear these claims is not… well… Christian. First, I want to call my brothers and sisters in Christ all kinds of un-pastoral names for buying into the anti-Muslim hype and then I want to shout out: Have you not read your Bible?!
Have you not read the consistent plea throughout the Old Testament to care for the stranger and foreigner? Have you not read the inclusive way that Jesus treated the Canaanite woman, the Syrian leper, the traveling Samaritan? Do you not know that Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself – and it is a very big neighborhood? Did you miss that Jesus constantly cared for those who are bullied and that hate crimes against Muslims were up 67 percent in 2015?
Once I get over my reactionary self and the fact that wielding Scripture like a sword has never gotten me anywhere, I calm down and respond instead of react. I ask another question: Have you ever met a Muslim?
If the answer is no (which is often), then I invite you to the next gathering of Christians and Muslims at my church.
I stand with Muslims because it is the Christian thing to do. It is the human thing to do.
I stand with Muslims because I have gotten to know Muslims, and I am forever changed.
BRENT BARRY is the lead pastor of NorthPark Presbyterian Church in Dallas. Brent and NorthPark have a deep commitment to working with the poor and hungry in Dallas, helping those with Alzheimer’s disease and reaching across religious and cultural lines to do their part to bring Dallas together as one.