By Kevin Singer and Chris Stackaruk
On March 15th, a White supremacist carried out a horrific terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 50 and injuring 50 others as they prayed. This included a three year old child. Words cannot describe the unfathomable evil carried out on that day, nor the incomprehensible grief that the families and friends of victims are now experiencing.
In a recent survey conducted by the Foundation of Ethnic Understanding, sixty-two percent of American Evangelicals reported anti-Muslim sentiment in their own communities. To combat the anti-Muslim attitudes and rhetoric that maintain a foothold in our tradition, we’re leading a cohort of evangelical college students from across the US to build bridges between their campuses and local Muslim communities.
We encouraged them and several other students to write down their thoughts on the events in Christchurch for their Muslim friends and neighbors to read. Here is what they wrote:
Jordan Sponsler (Messiah College, PA)
Words cannot adequately express the tragedy that has occurred, but I will not stand idly by while you, my Muslim brothers and sisters, are being oppressed. The God I serve is one who loves unconditionally and calls us to do the same...to advocate for any who are oppressed or marginalized within our communities. Not only do I stand with you, I stand for you, and you are in my heart as I pray each night.
Carissa Zaffiro (Taylor University, IN)
To my Muslim neighbors: You are welcome in my community. Your voice is important. Your religion is beautiful. You are loved. My heart breaks over the Christchurch shootings and I mourn the hatred that led to such brutality. Know that I stand with you. I welcome you into my home and family and I will strive to build a future in which you can flourish.
Cody Beasley (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, NC)
To my Muslim friends and neighbors, I would love for you to come with me to my grandmother’s house this Sunday. Every week after church, my whole family gathers around her table to enjoy a delicious, home-cooked meal. I want you to know that you are welcome there any time. You are welcome at our Sunday-afternoon table, side-by-side with my family, to laugh, eat, and share your story with us.
Anna Cole (Wheaton College, IL)
I don't have the words to express how I feel about this tragedy. I want you to know that students at Wheaton College are praying for your community in our classes, our chapel services, and our dorm rooms. I am committed to doing everything in my capacity to combat the types of attitudes towards immigrants and Muslims that fostered this tragedy. May God surround you with peace and comfort you during this time.
Laura Rodríguez (Nyack College, NY)
To my Muslim friends in NYC: My heart ached when I read the news about this event. I am grieving with you for the victims in New Zealand. I am praying for peace and comfort to the families of the victims and for you and your families to not feel afraid. You are loved! Hope to see you soon, let’s have some tea together this weekend.
Matthew Henning (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, IL)
Fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters are not coming home. They won't have dinner together at night. They won't have the opportunity to celebrate holidays or go through life together. I want to say to those families that I stand with you even though I don’t fully understand your pain. I want to say to my Muslim neighbor that I recognize you might have fears moving forward. I love you and am here for you.
Amar Peterman (Moody Bible Institute, IL)
My heart is grieved in light of this news about the Muslim community in Christchurch. There are few words for such a time, and it is my hope that in place of such words I, and my fellow Christian community, may stand in faithful presence alongside your community. As those who mutually share a faith rooted in hospitality, I pray in this time I and my tradition may share our time, prayers, and dinner tables with you.
Lydia Tamrat (Messiah College, PA)
I grieve that the Muslim community experienced this hateful crime, as well as the awful comments that came from certain people after the event. No human being deserves to be killed. I will stand by your side and help you in any way you would need, whether it's a shoulder to cry on or someone to assist you in this fight against religious bigotry.
Connor Lott (Azusa Pacific University, CA, ‘18)
I’m sure that no words can describe the mix of emotions that you are going through. These shootings in Christchurch are not only heartbreaking, but abominable and frustrating. Know that from my heart to yours that you are loved. I stand with you, support you, and pray for you. You have intrinsic value, beauty, and personhood; your complex and dynamic journey of life that makes you who you are should be celebrated. I will fight for the protection, and care of you, my Muslim neighbor, in this difficult time.
Bailey Koenig (Wheaton College, IL)
This tragedy is beyond words. As brothers and sisters of faith, my community is mourning with the Muslim community in New Zealand and denounce the great evil that occurred. We stand with you in grief, in anger, and in the belief that God offers peace and comfort. As a Christian, I pray that hospitality will be extended to those who lost loved ones and our worried Muslim neighbors here in America.
Sam Witt (Fresno Pacific University, CA)
A poem for the Christchurch community:
A mother, a father,
Sister and brother dead
What was going on in this twenty-eight year old’s head?
Still there is room for prayer, forgiveness, and mercy to be said
An event that no should have to go through
Islamophobia and guns are the problem, it’s not you
You are good, peaceful, and faithful
You don’t deserve such comments and actions that are so hateful
Today and tomorrow, I speak up, united I want to stand
I wish I could have been there sooner to lend a helping hand
We are all created equal
I’m sorry others don’t see you as I do, a group of such beautiful people
I pray for you as I know you pray for me
A world against violence is something we both long to see
I see you and I’ve come to meet you where you are
Together, we can mend the broken scars
No words expressing grief, solidarity, or love can restore the lives lost in Christchurch. Nor can they offer enough comfort to extinguish the grief and fear that many Muslims are experiencing in the wake of this attack.
Yet, if it’s true that words create worlds, we wish from ours a more hopeful future for anyone suffering anti-Muslim bigotry. Despite our differences of belief, we young Evangelicals welcome our shared future together.
In this season of hard questions and even more difficult grief, we strive to embody the vision of Christian pluralism cast by Matthew Kaemingk in his 2018 book, Christianity Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear. Because “Christ alone holds the keys to history” (125), we can mourn for our neighbors, defend them when they are attacked, and seek their welfare. More just than just sharing schools and streets, we can welcome them to our tables, as we remember how Christ continues to show His generous hospitality to us.
Kevin Singer and Chris Stackaruk are Co-Founders of Neighborly Faith, an organization helping evangelical Christians to be good neighbors to people of other religions. Neighborly Faith began when Kevin and Chris were graduate students in theology at Wheaton College. For more information on the fellows program or to listen to their weekly podcast, visit neighborlyfaith.org. You can also visit NF on Twitter and Facebook (@neighborlyfaith).