Why I Invited a Muslim to Pray at My Church

January 16, 2014 — 3 Comments

Okay, it isn’t actually my church. It’s a friend’s church. And it is a prayer at the church building, not during a gathering of the church. 

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But yes, I did invite a Muslim to offer a prayer at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Project, an interfaith observance of the life and legacy of Dr. King, to be held on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, at a Christian church.

Right now some of my friends are saying, “You did what?” while others are thinking, “Dude, what’s the big deal?”

So first let me acknowledge that this type of thing does make a lot of people uncomfortable. Religious diversity in a Gallup poll or television documentary is one thing. Religious diversity in your own community is something else. In your own church? That’ll push a few buttons, won’t it?

Many of us have been used to thinking of America as a Christian nation. After all, some 76 percent of us identify ourselves as Christians, at least in name.1

Since 1965, however, immigration policy in the United States has created an incredibly diverse religious landscape. Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism, among others, have taken their place alongside Christianity and Judaism as permanent features of American life.

There are now more Muslims than Episcopalians in the United States, and about the same number of Muslims and Jews, six million.2

Hello.

My own community, a suburb of Indianapolis, is 13 percent minority, including immigrants from all over the world. There are at least 80 primary languages spoken here. And while there are still far more churches than any other house of worship, there are many Muslims, Jews, Mormons, Buddhists, and, yes, plenty of “nones.”

So I and my event co-planners faced a question: Can we organize a gathering that truly represents our community and invite only Christians to participate?

While you mull that over, keep in mind that participation requires representation. If we invited people of other faiths to attend but offered them no voice, they would be mere spectators at the event as if they were merely guests in our society.

Still, did the invitation have to include an offer to pray?

No, it didn’t. In fact, we didn’t have to invite anyone to pray. We could have created an entirely secular observance.

That didn’t feel right either. We are celebrating the legacy of a Christian minister, one of the best known of the 20th century. King made the gospel come alive for us. Could we remember that gift and not thank God for it?

Sure, we could have structured the event so that only Christians prayed. That might have relieved the tension some of us may feel.

Ironically, those who are the most uncomfortable would probably be those who holler loudest when their children are not allowed to pray at a high school commencement ceremony. If there is freedom to pray, it must be freedom for everyone.

Even so, it may be a bit challenging to see a non-Christian stand on the platform of a Christian church and offer a prayer. This puts our brave talk about unity and tolerance to a real-world test.

So we remind ourselves that this is a community event to celebrate the vision of a society where all people are treated equally, where our children will “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

On this day, of all days, people of every faith should be able to come together, if only for one hour, to experience the dream of reconciliation, unity, and peace.

Lawrence W. Wilson

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I'm lead pastor at Fall Creek Wesleyan Church and the author of a few books including A Different Kind of Crazy and Why Me? Straight Talk about Suffering. When I have ideas that might help you transform your life and community, I post them here.
  • http://www.traffickingnews.org/ Jason Wert

    Question: was the church building dedicated to God when it was opened? If so, how does inviting people who do not worship the God to whom the building was dedicated (thus having them pray in a space Holy to God) not in essence insult God by saying He must not be the one true God?

    • http://www.lawrencewilson.com/p/about-me.html Lawrence W. Wilson

      Jason, I acknowledge that concern, though I would draw a different conclusion. We’re working to build reconciliation and unity in our community; hopefully, that’ll be successful.

      • Priestly

        What fellowship has light with darkness? Who does Mr. King represent? Going along to get along is not unity. Jesus said, If I be lifted up I will draw all men unto me. Did you lead him to Christ, the ONLY way to salvation? Did you love him enough to tell him the truth? Did you tell him he MUST BE BORN AGAIN? What would Mr. King tell him? II Cor. 5:17 is the only way to be reconciled with God and each other. Mr. King was a preacher of the gospel. What are you preaching?