DALLAS -- A lot has happened in the last week that will make Mary Middleton’s job and mission more difficult.
Or perhaps, more important.
“I think more people are afraid today than they were a week ago,” she said.
Mary works within her church community to build relationships with refugees and different religious groups as they create a new life in the United States. She is a Christian, many of the refugees are Muslim. However, the first step to bridging the gap is finding the similarities in different beliefs.
“We have a lot in common with the new folks coming to America,” Middleton said. “We are all human beings made in the image of God. We have the same desire to communicate, reach, and love God. But we do not do it in the same way.”
Churches of other faiths can play an important role in the relationships, understanding, or possible conflicts with Muslims. The recent executive order from President Donald Trump restricting travel from Islam-majority countries has put religious differences back into the national discussion. Middleton believes people who seek education about Islam often do so out of fear, but understanding and education are a way to find comfort.
“We have to face our fears and look at what is real and not real,” she said. “Educating ourselves with clear and accurate information is way to dispel that fear.”
18 years ago, Samira Izadi was a refugee from Iran seeking asylum in the United States. It was a Christian church that helped she and her family get settled.
“They started by helping us with practical issues and eventually we fell in love with them,” said Izadi who is now a converted Christian and the director of Gateway of Grace, an organization helping refugees with the same assistance and welcome she received 18 years ago.
But the reaction from churches and religious leaders to the recent executive order has been varied. This week, protestors demonstrated outside First Baptist Church in Dallas in response to Pastor Robert Jeffress’ comments supporting President Donald Trump’s order.
A description of a First Baptist educational course last November named “Muslims and Mormans and More! Oh My!” describes Islam as one of the greatest religious threats to Christianity in the USA and offers ways to share the gospel with members of the Islamic faith.
The different reactions and viewpoints among common religions in the United States can also be found in Islam according to Izadi.
“There is no such thing as one Islam. Muslims are as diverse in their beliefs and practice as Christians are.”
Izadi believes such diversity leads some Christians to view Islam as a threat while other Christians feel a calling to reach out and help through their own churches or organizations such as Gateway of Grace which bring them face-to-face with people of a different creed.
“Unless we get to know the person as a human being, we cannot build any bridges.”