It was later in the day on Friday, March 15, the day of the shooting attack on a Muslim mosque full of worshipers in Christchurch, New Zealand, when I was sending an email to my friend and former college classmate who is a Baptist pastor in Modesto, California. He mentioned in a return email that he was on his way to attend a prayer vigil in a local mosque following the New Zealand incident. At that time, I hadn’t yet heard about the shooting. I had to check the internet to find out what was going on.
It was no surprise that Wayne would be headed out to his local mosque to help bear some folks up in prayer and to be a visible evidence of the opposite of the divisiveness and hatred that personified this horrific act. Wayne has been a part of a gathering of religious leaders from multiple faiths in his town including Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, evangelicals and Catholics, among others, for some time.
I just spoke with him today to find out that there was another meeting at the mosque a couple days later that included the mayor, local politicians, representatives of the local police and fire departments and the overall message was that their retaliation for this awful crime was going to be their solidarity. Fight back with love. Gather together as an expression of freedom of religion and affirm their commitment to not let this attack push any of them off the mark of supporting each other’s right to worship as they choose. It certainly doesn’t justify 50 lives being taken, but it does show that there are other, stronger forces at work in our society — forces that you and I as Christians can support and stand side by side with others.
I’m so proud of Wayne for his bold move to embrace this group in the name of Christ and seek to understand other faiths instead of trying only to prove them wrong. This is a beautiful example of being Christians in the public square. Rather than engage in a culture war, we are engaging in solidarity — seeking to build bridges instead of walls. The end goal is understanding. If we seek to understand those of other beliefs, there’s a good chance that they will seek to understand us, and is that not a better way to have people exposed to the gospel than to force our beliefs on them?