“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” –Jesus Christ, Matthew 22:36-40
Who is my neighbor? This was the question that a Torah expert put to Jesus “to justify himself” (Luke 10:29). It was sort of an escape clause; a way of saying, “Surely God does not expect me to love everybody!” In response, Jesus told the famous parable of the Good Samaritan, in which the hated outsider turns out to be the most neighborly of all the pious characters in the story.
Who is my neighbor? In December of 2016, the Tri-State Islamic Center opened on Radford Court. Honestly, our Muslim neighbors have not been on my mind much since the opening of the Center until recently. An article in the Telegraph Herald highlighted a gift that the Islamic Center received from Dubuque’s Roman Catholic community. The Dubuque Catholic parishes brought in an artist to paint Arabic calligraphy over the central arch within the worship space in the Islamic Center. The Arabic lettering is a verse from the Quran which speaks of the unity of the human family. John Eby of Loras College commented, “This is a great example of how to love your neighbor as yourself and to show hospitality and inclusion.”
While this may seem like a very loving gesture, I would suggest that it is misguided love. From the Bible’s perspective, Truth is not multiple choice. Jesus either is who he said he is – theway, thetruth, and the life (John 14:6) – or he is not. The Athanasian Creed gives us its sobering annual reminder, “Whoever desires to be saved must, above all, hold the catholic faith. Whoever does not keep it whole and undefiled will without doubt perish eternally.” In light of Christ’s exclusive claims, can we really support a gift such as this, which lends approval to the worship of a religion in which Jesus Christ is not Lord and God? If we believe Christ’s own words concerning the way to God the Father, then a gift such as that of Dubuque’s Catholic community is tantamount to saying, “We support your choice to perish eternally”!
I do not mean to denigrate my Catholic friends. I’m sure this was all carried out with the very best of intentions and with deep conviction. I just think there is a better way we can show love to our Muslim neighbors. How then? For starters, I would suggest education and interaction. Most of us form our views of Islam based on what we hear on the news about ISIS. That is only one small and radical subsection of Islam. Do we understand the Muslim religion as a whole? I know I don’t! We can also interact with these and all our neighbors. Check the Islamic Center’s Facebook page and see what community events they have coming up. There is also a group that meets in Dubuque that brings Christians, Jews, and Muslims together for conversation called Children of Abraham. You can look them up at cofabraham.org to find out about upcoming events. I must admit I have never attended one of these gatherings, so I cannot say that I completely condone their goals but a humble and confident Lutheran voice can only enhance the conversation!
Finally, I strongly commend to you an upcoming event at St. Paul. On September 15-16, we will be hosting Rev. Tim Bickel of “People of the Book Lutheran Outreach (POBLO)” who will be preaching for us and hosting a presentation on the 16thabout Islam. More details will be forthcoming. Perhaps this will better equip us to witness to our Muslim neighbors. Together, let us continue to seek the best ways to love our neighbors – ultimately by sharing the saving love of Christ with them.