The whole experience was a lesson in how some things are more complex than they appear. Another example of this is the ever increasing challenge of how we as followers of Jesus engage with our neighbours of other faiths, particularly those who follow Islam.
Recently I met an experienced church youth worker who lives just outside Birmingham, and on hearing about our work at The Feast simply and innocently asked: “Why?” She had very little contact with Muslims and no apparent negative feelings towards them, but they just did not feature in her ministry or life. Yet they are constantly in our news and social media feeds. Whether it is the Muslim ban imposed by the US, the shooting in a Quebec mosque, or the Queen’s chaplain who resigned over the Qur’an being read in a cathedral, all of us are unconsciously having our views shaped, whether we realise it or not.
In John 8 we find the story of Jesus and a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. It was a test - would he uphold God’s holy standard or compromise and ignore her obvious sin? After stooping down to write in the sand, he invited anyone who had no sin to cast the first stone, and, as we know, his challenge hit a raw nerve and her accusers backed off. At the very end Jesus told her: “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”
What I love about this outcome is how Jesus modelled that it is possible to love someone absolutely - to protect and care for them, no matter who they are or what they have done - and yet at the same time to share the distinctives of our faith, the reality of our sin and need of a saviour.
We in the Church are being confronted with a test in the form of ‘neighbours’ of other faiths. Will we keep trying to avoid them, or live in fear of them and their place in our country? Or if we do seek their friendship and strive for their wellbeing, will we still be willing to share the reason for our hope in Jesus, with gentleness and respect?
Yes, these may be complex times, but like the salesman at Halfords, God is raising up people and charities like The Feast to help churches and Christian children and youth workers to find vibrant ways to respond. Let God challenge and teach you as you choose to love your neighbours… especially if they are Muslim.