By Arthur L. Smith
On September 18, 2011, Northwood Church in Keller, Texas hosted an event where 1,000 Christians and 1,000 Muslims came together to embark on societal change. “The only hope we have to tone down our fear of Muslims and the only thing Jesus commands us to do is love – it’s done by engaging others,” says Bob Roberts, Jr., Senior Pastor at Northwood Church.
The United States faces profound issues related to poverty, education and social injustice that cannot be solved by government programmes and policies alone. People of faith must come together to work out solutions to our common problems. Specifically, evangelical Christian churches in the United States must embrace people of other faiths and must willingly and actively engage in meaningful dialogue in order to tackle the common problems within our society. Evangelical churches have long been at the forefront of social programmes, but an even greater need has arisen in the 21st century which calls for a joint effort between the faiths.
Although this may appear to some an unlikely pairing, with over two billion Christians and over 1.5 billion Muslims, the two groups account for over half of the world’s population. By combining our resources, Muslims and evangelicals can impact our society in a personal and powerful way.
By coming together the two faiths began a grassroots campaign in which Muslims and Christians will work together on projects that will benefit the community. For example, the Embrace Group – which originally formed to teach one another traditional cooking – has transformed into a service group that serves lunch at the local Senior Center. Also, three multi-faith mini-makeover teams, consisting of five Jews, five Muslims and five Christians each, worked on homes near each congregation which included home repair, painting and landscaping for needy families.
“The purpose of interfaith gathering is to rid ourselves of the ignorance of others [and to] work together for the common good,” said Azhar Azeez, Vice President of the Islamic Society of North America.
Northwood Church was founded in 1985 and has a current active membership of over 2,500. Located in Keller, Texas, Northwood Church reaches out to its community through local ministries targeted toward inner-city children and youth, as well as the global community in places such as Mexico and Vietnam. Northwood Church has been at the forefront of fostering relationships with peoples of different faiths.
For example, in November of 2010, hundreds of people from all walks of faith and social standing converged on Northwood Church to dialogue about such topics as religious tolerance and social responsibility. The three-day multi-faith conference, sponsored by Northwood Church and embraced by its congregation, was the first of its kind where Muslims, Christians, Jews and others openly discussed issues of relevance to our common society.
Through these interfaith discussions and social gatherings, Northwood has begun to break down perceived barriers, and its congregants and staff have begun to see the commonalities between the two faiths. Christian and Muslim worshippers have come to understand that a difference in faith does not mean a difference in values. Both faiths consist of moral people who value education, religious tolerance and strong families.
If the average American could understand this very point — the similarities that exist between evangelicals and Muslims — he or she would come away with a renewed sense of religious tolerance. The common values shared by both faiths should give us a desire for an open dialogue on how we can bolster our resources to help fight social problems. What was learned from these discussions between the faiths on 18 September will help to find ways to affect real change in our society through collaborative action.
I encourage you to be a part of standing together for change in your own communities. Social responsibility begins with a joint effort and a common goal: to better our society. The upcoming projects planned by the two faiths will allow the common worshipper to engage society in a meaningful and productive way.
Arthur L. Smith is a member of Northwood Church. He is also a teacher and writer who blogs about faith, family and writing at www.arthurlsmith.com.