This is the worst story of Islamophobia I have heard to far, its impact on me made worse by the fact that this occurred in the mostly open-minded city I grew up in. Over the course of two emails and one phone call today I received from both of my parents and one Rabbi this disgusting story.
Every year, AAIM, Austin Area Interreligious Ministries holds a pre-Thanksgiving dinner and service hosted by various religious communities at various houses of worship. This year, Hyde Park Baptist Church was slated to host the festivities in their Central Austin facility, though the event was organized by Austin’s Muslim community. Said Rabbi Steven Folberg, the Senior Rabbi at the congregation I grew up at, Congregation Beth Israel, in an email to the whole congregation, “Sadly, when the church leadership learned that ‘interfaith service’ did not mean ‘intra-Christian’ or ‘intra-Protestant,’ in other words, when they learned that non-Christian worshipers and religious leaders would be represented, they withdrew their offer.”
In a phone call with CBI’s Associate Rabbi, Rabbi Benjamin D. Sternman he told me that what had happened was that because of the timing of the interfaith service portion of the event, the Muslims involved in the event would have to pause to offer their sunset prayer. Upon hearing this, HPBC’s leadership apparently had an aneurism and decided that they would not allow people to pray to God in their church. Makes sense, right?
When CBI caught wind of this and was asked to provide the facilities for this event, the only response was, “Why not?”
The Austin American-Statesman, Austin’s newspaper, quoted Church leaders saying, “’Although individuals from all faiths are welcome to worship with us at Hyde Park Baptist Church, the church cannot provide space for the practice of these non-Christian religions on church property… Hyde Park Baptist Church hopes that the AAIM and the community of faith will understand and be tolerant of our church’s beliefs that have resulted in this decision.’” The paper also noted, “Hyde Park Baptist, an evangelical megachurch at West 39th Street and Speedway, is not a member of Interreligious Ministries, and church leaders were not planning to participate in the service.” As for CBI, “Synagogue leaders said they would arrange space for Muslims to make their evening prayers… ‘What a great testimony of inclusion.’”
Said R. Folberg in his email, “My reasons for choosing to offer our sanctuary for this occasion are many, but I would share just one of them with you now. Simply put, one crucial way to begin to heal some of the divisions in our society and lessen the amount of hostility and suspicion that has risen up, reptilian, from the depths of our culture, is to bring people into contact with each other whose paths do not normally cross. We must get to know other human beings as human beings, created in the image of God, and not as self-serving mental abstractions, symbols of our own ignorance and fear. I know of no more effective or powerful way of dispelling myths and stereotypes about ‘The Other’ than to worship and break bread together. We must encounter each other as fathers, mothers and children, we must look into each other’s faces, in order to make peace.
“This is more than just ‘a nice thing to do.’ I deeply believe, at the risk of sounding grandiose, that the very survival of humanity depends upon our willingness to transcend our differences and reach out to each other at the very same time that we cherish the uniqueness of our various communities and traditions. Whether one is Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Christian, Secular Humanist, or an adherent of any one of the multiplicity of other faiths and ideologies that claim the loyalties of men and women everywhere, there is no greater spiritual truth, and no truth more essential to our aspirations to heal the world, than the truth of the unity and the interdependence of all human beings. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. put it 40 years ago, ‘Now the judgment of God is upon us, and we must either learn to live together as brothers or we are all going to perish together as fools.’ When we consider the Torah’s famous admonition, uvacharta bachayyim, ‘You shall choose life,’ then it is clear to me that the opportunity to host the service is the opportunity to do an important mitzvah.”
HPBC leaders, go read a damn book.