A Nice Story About Colliding Faiths September 15, 2010

A Nice Story About Colliding Faiths

I’ve heard plenty of talk the past couple weeks about Christians burning Korans and trying to stop a mosque from being built. But finally, there’s a good story about the two faiths colliding.

In Memphis, a mosque was built right across from an already established Christian church. But the construction wasn’t quite complete in time for Ramadan… so the church’s pastor invited them in:

Under a gigantic cross constructed of salvaged wood, nearly 200 area Muslims have been gathering each night to pray.

“I think it’s helped break down a lot of barriers in both congregations,” said Islamic center board member Danish Siddiqui.

“I’ve got fear and ignorance in me, too,” said [pastor Steve] Stone, referring to his and some of his congregants’ early apprehension toward the Memphis center.

But as members of the Christian congregation take the opportunity to sit in on Ramadan prayers and meet people at the nightly gatherings, much of that mystery and fear has dissipated.

“People in Memphis appreciate faith, even if it’s not their faith,” said Shaykh Yasir Qadhi, the Islamic center’s scholar in residence and a Rhodes College professor.


You don’t have to like, respect, or condone what either faith group believes to realize this is a positive step forward.

Christian Jason Boyett weighs in on the matter (emphasis his):

I’m sure there will be some Christians — people who are otherwise kind and generous — who will be very uncomfortable with the idea of allowing another religion to worship in a sacred Christian space. (Especially a religion Christians have been taught to view as false, at best, and demonic, at worst.)

But I see nothing but good things coming from this kind of no-strings-attached hospitality and radical grace, and I hope we’ll begin to see more of it.

Let me toss this question out:

Do you think your humanist group, if it had a building, would be willing to open it up to a religious group for prayer services if they had nowhere else to go?

If that’s already happened, I haven’t heard the story. But I wonder how atheists would react if they were presented with that scenario…

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  • I’d charge them for the use of the space. They’d have to pay per prayer.

  • The pastor of the church I used to attend once said that the spaces in their church were available to other religious groups to rent (for a fee)… as long as the group was not atheist. He would draw the line there.

  • frank

    I do think that if an atheist group has put the resources in to purchasing a space, they should insist on some benefit, such as a reasonable fee, for the use of the space by any unrelated group.

    Even aside from financial considerations, if I were in an atheist group that had a space, I would be opposed to inviting muslims in to pray in it. Muslim prayers, no matter how moderate the muslims, are segregated by gender. And I think an atheist organization should be supportive enough of gender equality not to allow an activity segregated by gender to occur on its premises.

  • Sally

    I’d say sure. Radical Grace. I like that.

    I like being nice at all costs. It’s difficult but a good way to lead by example.

    Still I doubt I’d be allowed to have an atheist group meet in a church. But I wouldn’t want to!

  • Tim

    It’s really nice to see this display of tolerance amidst all the racism and bigotry the mosque controversy has exposed in America…but, although I should probably afford them the benefit of the doubt, I can’t help but wonder what the Christians are thinking secretly while they’re putting on such a pretense of tolerance. I wonder if they’re secretly pondering how the Muslims are damned. Or, perhaps they’re thinking that they’ve finally tricked the Muslims into coming inside their church, where they will be converted by “the one true God.”

    That all might be fake, but you have to wonder.

  • WPK

    How many humanist groups have their own buildings? Mine meets at a public library.

  • That’s a great story. It shows a lot of acceptance and tolerance. Too bad this is so rare.

    I would hope my humanist group (if I had one) would be so charitable.

  • Clyde

    Of course I’d make sure they were praying under my “gigantic” atheist symbol.

    Just saying…

  • They can hire my hall so long as they pay like any other hobby group (e.g. tae kwon do, local concert band)

  • Ibis

    If I were running one, I certainly would. And I wouldn’t charge (unless it was a long-term arrangement). I would just get an agreement up front with the person in charge that there would be no preaching against certain groups under our roof (e.g. gays or infidels). It’s just basic hospitality to others in one’s community. I think I’d draw the line at a religious school though.

  • HamsterWheel

    That’s a nice gesture, but the only way Christians and Muslims will ever reconcile their differences is if they recognize that the contradictory mutually-exclusive supernatural deities they worship are nothing but primitive superstitious nonsense, but if they did that then they wouldn’t really be Christians or Muslims, would they?

    I wouldn’t want theists doing their superstitious business in an atheist/humanist establishment. I might invite them for a debate, but inviting them to worship seems counterproductive.

  • Dan

    If I ran an atheist group I would NOT allow any religious group to use my space. I wouldn’t be getting the space tax free like their to-be-built holy place will be.

    Besides, what religion would even consider using a space owned by a group they consider the worst of all?

    I don’t buy that this Church is as loving as the report suggests. Would they allow their Church to be used as a strip club if the closest one has a problem with the building and need to close down for a month? I doubt it.

    And I bet most Churches equate atheists with strippers, and related jobs. They let atheists in if there’s a debate, or if they think they can convert them… but I don’t know of a Church to let atheists play free in their place of worship. And I wouldn’t allow religions to play in my place of gathering.

  • Don Rose

    Hell no. Sorry, but I’m so against religion right now, that even if I was in danger of losing my building, and the religious groups’ money would save it…… I’d probably just let the bank take the place.

  • Parse

    Major kudos to Pastor Stone for this. From the article, he says “What would Jesus do if He were us? He would welcome the neighbor.

    To answer the question Hemant is asking requires a number of additional facts.
    – The times when the answer would be outright ‘no’ are slim – if they would require permanent (or semi-permanent) modifications to the space available, or if they preached outright hatred towards our group. The first because there’d be no way to return the space to normal between their services; the second because of fears of vandalism by the congregants.
    – I would let them use the space for free (in an effort at community building), if they agree to a few conditions: it’s a short-term need with a definite end-point, and members of our group can silently observe (or participate, if appropriate). It can become awkward asking for rental fees when the expected one-month turns into six with no end in sight. The second condition is there so we can learn from them; they can learn from us; and the community as a whole is strengthened. From the article, it sounds like this is exactly why Pastor Stone’s lending a hand.
    – On the other hand, if they didn’t have a definite ending point, or wanted to exclude nonmembers from services, then they could rent space like any other group in the community.

  • Aj

    I hope that Humanists wouldn’t encourage religion, seems to go against the principles of Humanism. It’s one thing to accept religion instead of joining the fight against it, but it’s quite another to actively help religion. For some Christians it’s different, it might be useful for them to actually meet Muslims, especially with the amount of hysteria among some of them.

    “People in Memphis appreciate faith, even if it’s not their faith,” said Shaykh Yasir Qadhi, the Islamic center’s scholar in residence and a Rhodes College professor.

    That doesn’t sound good. It’s not necessarily a positive step for us. Interfaith cooperation is often directed against secularists.

  • One of the universities here has an Ecumenical Christian Ministries hall at the edge campus which is open to any group (religious or otherwise) that wishes to use the space – schedule permitting – free of charge.

    The campus atheist/agnostic/free-thinkers group has met there in the past. Yoga classes, spiritualism groups, AA, and a local pagan group have also used the meeting hall.

    I think “Radical Grace” is a good term for it, though I wish it weren’t “radical” but normal for religious organizations to help others regardless of religion or belief.

  • kvtxzsvzxhktz

    I would allow it with no strings attached. Even though atheists should not have to prove we are good people, the unfortunate reality is that we have an image problem to overcome. It’s not our fault, but that’s how it is, and I think we should take steps to address it, because if we don’t, we will continue to alienate people.
    Meanwhile, the religious right will continue to claim to be the “moral majority,” a claim which earns them significant political power. We can continue to attack the hypocrisy of such claims, but until we show positive examples of how atheists are good people, I don’t think most people will change their opinions. What better way to do that than community outreach?

  • Ms. Crazy Pants

    Atheist groups have to pay taxes on their space whereas religious groups do not. Atheists also don’t tithe.

    In a pinch, I couldn’t see a problem with a temporary space loan.

  • I’m so cynical. All I thought was that they were offering the space in the hope of converting one or two.

  • Do you think your humanist group, if it had a building, would be willing to open it up to a religious group for prayer services if they had nowhere else to go?

    Currently, I don’t actually officially belong to any humanist group….but I will say that if I did, and if I were speaking on behalf of them, I would say most certainly yes. I see no clear and present good reason not to.

  • I guess the distinction between atheists and Christians is that they profess to be tolerant and non-judgmental to death and rarely demonstrate it. All I see is a display of what they preach. Atheist just “be”. It would be nice to invite religious groups in to see that atheists aren’t evil, baby eaters.

  • Charon

    Do you think your humanist group, if it had a building, would be willing to open it up to a religious group for prayer services if they had nowhere else to go?

    This may be an interesting question, but it’s purely academic. Do you know anywhere in the US with any sizable number of humanist society buildings? I’ve lived in Chicago, Seattle, and Boulder – not religious heartland, obviously – and churches far outnumber humanist buildings. If there are any humanist buildings. (I”ve never seen one, but then, I’ve never sought one out. Which is one reason why there aren’t many – not only are non-theists only ~15% of the population, but they generally don’t feel the need to congregate and talk about their non-belief. Online forums aside 😉 )

    Plus, can any humanist societies afford to own their own building? Holy cow. To give one example for comparison, the Mountaineers in Seattle have ~10,000 dues-paying members, and for price reasons transitioned from ownership to rental. I’d be surprised if any humanist society in the US owned a building with sizable meeting space.

  • Muffins

    Well personally, I don’t see any benefit in having a giant meeting hall with extra space for a humanist/secular organization other than just a waste of money.

    But if I did have one and found a religious group that was open-minded enough to even consider meeting in a “godless” place without indenting to use it as an opportunity to convert some “lost souls”, I’d probably be open to letting them hold their event in return.

  • Rich Wilson

    “People in Memphis appreciate faith, even if it’s not their faith,”

    I feel kind of like Jon Stewart, the Jew, as the common enemy between Christianity and Islam. It would be REALLY nice if they’d also appreciate lack of faith.

    As for giving them space- I can respect their right to pray, but not feel obliged to let them, say, give them space to hold a sermon on the evils of homosexuality. So I guess it depends. But then, would they rent me space to burn a bible and a koran? Let’s push the envelope here.

  • Aric

    Hemant, that is an excellent question to ask after reading about this.

  • L.Long

    I don’t get my stuff for free where they get their schite free and gov’mint money too.
    They can pay a reasonable fee like anyone else THEY ARE NOT SPECIAL in any way!!!!!
    stated above….
    Major kudos to Pastor Stone for this. From the article, he says “What would Jesus do if He were us? He would welcome the neighbor.”
    BS!!! jepus was a jew bigot and would never allow the heathen to use the church (sin-a-gog?)for heathen practice. He didn’t even like the gentile!

  • cutthroatjane

    It would be nice to invite religious groups in to see that atheists aren’t evil, baby eaters.

    heh, speak for yourself 😛

  • phoenix logos

    Me thinketh that something is fishy about that, ok on the surface it all looks very sweet but we are talking about 2 religions here, not rational people, how often have we heard these groups talk about tolerance and peace, that’s right, all the time, how often do we see them actually practise these principles, I rest my case, they’ll be fighting soon you can absolutely guarantee that….

  • Bostonian

    I think Hemant makes a good point. In such a scenario, a humanist group really *should* provide space to another group that needs it (assuming we’re not talking about some sort of radical right hate spewing religious group, needy or no).

    But you won’t hear about this happening for two reasons. The primary one is that not many humanist groups own their own dedicated space to lend out. The secondary is that if a religious group lacking a worship space finds out a generous humanist group is made up atheists, the religious group will probably go elsewhere.

  • Parse

    If you really want to have a quote war, I’m sure both of us could pull quotes from the bible supporting our positions. I partly suspect that the bible was compiled with that in mind; that any position you could take was supported by the good book.

    That being said, the type of people who ask themselves ‘What Would Jesus Do’ tend to be asking more ‘What Would Hippy Free-Love Jesus Do’ instead of ‘What Would Blood-For-The-Blood-God Jesus Do’.

    If you think the pastor’s only doing this in hopes of increasing his flock, he might not be seeking converts from the Muslim worshipers. Instead, by the publicity this is generating, it will attract those who still consider themselves Christian, but are thrown off by all the hate and rage coming from other churches. But on the other hand, consider this: We want Christians to think that we’re capable of doing good for its own sake. Shouldn’t Christians be able to do the same?

  • Nice to read this over here. And, liked the spin on asking, WWAD? (What Would an Atheist Do?)

    It’s a good philosophical exercise. Still, I suspect it’s hard to answer b/c it’s so broad.

    I think the hope lies in asking, What Would I Do? Or What would my local congregation or secular humanist group do?

    At the end of the day, while it’s not the complete list, we all want connection & respect.

    If a decree came down that all Christian churches must accept gay marriage or allow atheists to meet in their bldg or whatever, we would see people leaving the church or staying & following the letter of the law, but not necessarily putting their heart into it. And that wouldn’t be satisfactory.

    However, one on one (be it individual or congregation/gathering) there’s a better chance of really getting to know one another. Understanding and empathy would get a better foothold.

    I’d be proud to belong to a church that formally shares its space with atheists. Certainly, we already have a number of them coming through our doors throughout the week, and work side-by-side with them in providing social services. If they wanted to get together formally, that’d be fine by me. Knowing me, I’d want to hear more and hopefully get to join them every now and then (if i were welcome).

    In the meantime, I’ll continue to work at contributing to MY church’s culture so that we may better live out love w/o strings attached. (a lifestyle that we Christians have neither mastered, not the right to claim as solely a “Christian” ideal)

  • Ibis

    Not sure if you’re aware, but there’s a Canadian sit-com built on this premise called Little Mosque on the Prairie. The mosque rents out space in the Anglican church in a little town in Saskatchewan. Hilarity ensues. http://www.cbc.ca/littlemosque/

  • (Especially a religion Christians have been taught to view as false, at best, and demonic, at worst.)

    Shouldn’t a believing Christian consider all other religions to be false? Isn’t that an obvious implication of the most basic belief in Christianity?

    For example, if the Jewish religion doesn’t believe Jesus is the Messiah and that he died for our sins, then their religion is false.

    Religion is idiotic, but at least give the logically consistent some credit.

  • Enci

    Yes all this religious tolerance is very nice and all. What I wonder is… would there be such tolerance for a non-religious group? If atheists held some sort of celebration event in Charles Darwin’s honor (for example) and our building wasn’t finished, would Christians invite us in too, or are they only tolerant as long as there is a belief in SOME god, any god? And also, if atheists offered our building to Christians, would Christians ACCEPT the invitation to pray in an atheist group’s building? EL

  • A humanist group with a building, and a church without one? What strange planet do you live on, Hemant?

  • Erp

    The New York Society for Ethical Culture has had a building for 100 years on Central Park West, Manhattan. http://www.thecityreview.com/uws/cpw/64w2.html has some history

    BTW many if not all US Ethical Culture groups and their buildings fall in the same category as churches as far as taxation (this is despite a couple of attempts to rule them non-exempt [Comptroller of Public Accounts v. Ethical Society of Austin, 2003, Washington Ethical Society v. District of Columbia 1957]

    Interesting reading in the two cases.

  • Jay

    Secular Planet, it’s a hypothetical question…

    In response, yes, I would. I’m an atheist, but I’m not set out to destroy religion. If people feel they need a faith-crutch to get them through life, then maybe that’s the only thing getting them through. Even I sometimes wish there was a god which I could escape from my troubles to, but reality isn’t that kind.

    Now, if they tried to use it as a base for proselytizing and evangelism, that’d be another story. I guess it depends on the religion. I’d respectfully not point out the contradictions and fallacies of their beliefs so long as their faith isn’t one of harassment and attempting to convert nonbelievers.

    If something like this were to take place, it could only help to foster a positive view of freethinkers.

  • Gordon

    “People in Memphis appreciate faith, even if it’s not their faith,” said Shaykh Yasir Qadhi, the Islamic center’s scholar in residence and a Rhodes College professor.

    I dont see myself as the type to “appreciate faith”, quite the opposite.

  • muggle


    While I don’t set out to destroy religion and I advocate for freedom of religion including peaceable beliefs in deities, I’m damned if I’m going to encourage or support that kind of ignorance and the mess it causes.

    I only advocate for their freedom to practice their religion as long as they are likewise tolerant because it’s freedom of religion I believe in, not grownups believing in imaginary friends. And, frankly, I believe in freedom of religion so strongly because I’m free to reject such stupidity.

    I would, however, no sooner assist said detriments to others lives than I would enable an alcoholic or a drug addict. To give them a space to pray would be enabling the delusion. Go talk to your imaginary friend if you must but if you’ve no place to meet (why exactly can’t they use one of the believer’s homes?) ask this gawd of yours to provide. Not me.

  • Firstly, and act of kindness done in the name of a supernatural being is tainted because it’s not certain that the deed was done for ‘goodness sake’, or to save souls for Jesus, Allah, Yahweh, or whoever. The only good deed you can be 100% certain of is genuine, is one from an atheist.

    Secondly, one ‘magic man in the sky’ believing organization helping out another ‘magic man in the sky’ believing organization is different from an atheist organization helping out. The charter of an atheist organization would be along the lines that belief in ’magic man in the sky’ is delusional, divisive, disingenuous, and dangerous. I can turn the question around and ask how many religious believers would sign a petition agreeing with that?

  • cherie

    It depends on the religion. If it’s a tolerant religion that doesn’t say unbelievers will be punished, that doesn’t threaten those who leave the religion, that doesn’t brainwash its adherents into believing all manner of sick foolishness, then, I’d have no problem with letting them rent space =)

    BTW, I heard Shaykh Yasir Qadhi on TV, and he seemed very reluctant to express any thanks to the Christian minister. He kept emphasizing how we in Memphis do this sort of thing all the time, it’s not news, move along people- and he raise the question as to how and why the press had found out about this. I can just imagine the scenario if a humanist group had offered their space to a True Believer group. The TB’s might have been even more reluctant to cough up any expression of gratitude.

    Perhaps a better way for a humanist group to be inclusive would be to share space with some org. that does good works reaching a broad spectrum of society rather than one that focuses on TB?

  • Nik

    I live in Memphis, and I didn’t hear about this until I read it here (that says a lot more about my avoidance of newspapers and not owning a TV than anything else).

    Actually, my humanist group (technically UU, but the majority of us are agnostic or atheist) rents space from a Baptist church to meet. It’s a relatively liberal Baptist church, but it’s still surprising. So, I think, if we had our own space, we might be willing to let a religious group use it.

    Somewhat off-topic, but the church my UU fellowship meets in is having a potluck this SUnday to welcome our Muslim neighbors. Not all religious people are kooks intent on converting by the sword.

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