NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The front door of Christ Church Cathedral was propped open despite the rain.
Inside the church, small groups of Muslims, Christians and Jews embraced and chatted like old friends before the start of the latest meeting of the Family of Abraham, an interfaith group based here.
The face of Bernard Werthan, one of the event’s organizers, lighted up as people filed in. By the time things got started, about 170 people had filled the church’s pews.
It was the latest success for the Family of Abraham, created in response to controversy over the construction of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, 40 miles to the south.
The original organizers were part of a Jewish-Muslim study group called the Circle of Friends. They wanted to show that Middle Tennessee welcomes people of all faiths.
“Part of the surprise has been that so many places have been open to us,” Werthan said. “No one has turned us down.”
Daniel Tutt, a Washington-based interfaith activist and writer, urged group members to move from tolerating one another to developing authentic friendships.
Small things, such as having coffee, being friends on Facebook or spending time together can help create real relationships, he said. That way if a crisis comes, like the opposition to the mosque, people already have close ties.
“We have to form relationships so that we can respond effectively to a crisis,” he said.
He also suggested that groups of different faiths work together on social issues such as poverty.
“Diversity is just a starting point to tackling things that are bigger than ourselves,” he said.
The Rev. Timothy Kimbrough, rector of Christ Church, said the program fit with his Episcopal congregation’s ministry.
“Part of the mission of a cathedral is to be at the spiritual crossroads of a community,” he said. “This program certainly fits that mission.”
Imam Yusuf Abdullah of Masjid Al-Islam here was one of the responders to the speech. He said he has appreciated the support that Muslims have received from people of other faiths.
He also said Muslims have to be more proactive in talking about their faith.
“We, as Muslims, have to tell our story,” Abdullah said.
Tutt agreed. He also said that interfaith groups must be able to criticize antisocial actions in the name of religion.
Many Muslims are ashamed of the violence done in the name of Islam, he said, and so interfaith groups have to speak out.
Bob Smietana also writes for The Tennessean in Nashville.
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