Henry is writing his first novel entitled City of Peace. The threat of terrorism brings the community together.
Q: How has growing up locally in such a diverse area impacted your views on people of other faiths?
A: I grew up in a community in Bowie, Maryland; very much an interfaith community and most of the residents had parents working in the federal government and school system and there were people of different faiths and different nationalities, mostly with Christians and Jews, but also Muslims.
Q: How does Christianity portray interfaith interactions?
A: Foundational to my Christian faith, we are all made in the image of God and human dignity is foundational faith. That goes much deeper than our religious differences. That is the basis of all my attempts to make alliances irrespective of nationality and religions and consistent with Jesus. He was famous for his hospitality and we grow up learning about the sumerian women.
Q: What does it mean to you to be an “uncommon Christian community?”
A: Our understanding is that most Christian communities is a group of like-minded believers with one or very few racial or ethnic groups and are stratem of the socio-economic profile. At Fairfax Presbyterian, we see ourselves as a house of prayer for all people and to be in a community. Sadly, this is uncommon in our community and is increasingly polarized and fractured. Our understanding is enriched and we can learn the most from people that are different from us.
Q: What inspired your church to have faith interaction as an integral part of your community?
A: This effort precedes my pastorate. The scripture verse: my house shall be a house for all people” inspired us in the 1960s. The church’s growth is what does it to mean to house for all. In the 1970s we helped with Vietnamese refugees. Our former Pastor Henry Bowman marched with Dr. Martin Luther King in Selma. Since I have come to Fairfax, some members did not agree with interfaith calling. The vast majority of church members are excited by our interfaith programs.
Q: What interfaith community events have you organized in the past?
A: We held an Iftar outside of our church in a large tent at the request of Ezher Bloom and Rumi Forum. We are committed to practicing hospitality. We could support and would be a benefit to our Muslim neighbors and broader community. It was more successful than i could have imagined. Not just Muslims, many of our Christian church members had discovered a lot of commonality in their service to the community. We were delighted to offer a beautiful campus in the heart of Fairfax. There is a discussion to revive “gathering of friends” and in this program we invite people of a variety of faiths at a place of faith and we look together at a particular topic of interest. The last time we hosted it was on religious holidays. It is often in a panel discussion format and there is some back and forth, then the gathered groups ask questions clarifying the topic and finally a table discussion. We intentionally make each table interfaith and they don’t necessarily know each other. It has led to increased appreciation. We did one on politics before the 2016 and typically we avoid such topics, but we felt we had to address it. We will have an interfaith thanksgiving with the leadership of all church, mosque and we do it b/c it is our one true interfaith American holiday. Everything else has a specific faith based focus. We come together every year for our life together in the United States.
Q: What more can Muslims do to strengthen our community bond?
A: The path to understanding is through personal relationships. There is no substitute for having a meal together and how we have so many shared focal points and desires for our communities and children. Anything Muslims can do, to develop will good fruit. Hospitality is the core of Islam, as it is with Christianity and Judaism. It means going back to the foundations of our faith and acting on our faith.
Q: How can we get more interfaith communities in other parts of the country?
A: I have heard of other communities having success and one person or doctor willing to stand up and tell his/her story and to talk about their faith to let the larger Christian community know we have much in common. What the media has to say about Muslims is not always accurate. It does require a great deal of courage from Muslims, especially as minorities.
Q: What does your church community do to teach youth about acceptance?
A: The activities we have are open to church members of all ages. Those are open to the next generation as well. Our children are actually teaching us a lot. Our schools are thoroughly interfaith and multicultural. My children are much less prejudiced than a lot of adults. This is an example of the younger generation teaching the older generation.
Q: What are your thoughts on the Muslim ban?
A: I understand it but i do not agree with it. The president has a right to put restrictions for national security. I understand it. I do not believe that this particular ban has been put in place to create a greater national security for americans. All but two are majority Muslim countries and those countries were selected to fulfill his campaign promise of total shutdown of Muslim immigration. It’s important to connect those dots. I think it’s a Muslim Ban. I think we are just playing games if we don’t see that connection. I would want to assure my Muslim brothers and sisters they are welcome in this country and many devout Christians value their presence in this country and committed to enjoying everyone enjoying religious freedom. We are strong because of our religious diversity not in spite of it. In time this will be overturned and will be seen as a mistake. We have to work to overturn but must continue to live with it.