I attended an event last week hosted by a church here in Willmar called “The Trojan Horse of Interfaith Dialogue.”
I assumed by the title and description of the event that the main speaker, Shahram Hadian, would have a worldview and a view of Christianity that was far different than mine. However, I attended the event not to support it, but to listen to a perspective other than mine.
I believe that it is in listening to others and being in honest dialogue with them, no matter how much we disagree, we are able to find common ground, build bridges, and grow as people.
It became clear as the speaker went on for over two hours that he was not interested in honest dialogue, but in attacking the Muslim community, interfaith work, and particularly the work of the Willmar Interfaith Network and our aims to build a happier, healthier, and more loving and inclusive community in Willmar.
He often used misinformation, half-truths, and absolute falsehoods to make his arguments, and though the event description promised a question and answer session, anytime someone raised a question or concern they were silenced, and the only questions answered were those Hadian hand-picked from note cards given to him by the audience.
Among Hadian’s talking points, he shared that Christianity is an “exclusive club,” that we get to judge other Christians for their actions, and that social justice, relationship-building, and helping our neighbors in need are all “not sharing the gospel.”
As a Christian, as a father, and as a member of the Willmar Interfaith Network, I am angered and saddened this man was invited to our city to give this particular talk, and invited to share it in a church that claims a faith in a loving God.
There were many times I considered leaving the event, but there are at least two reasons I’m glad I stayed.
1. My family. I went to remind myself that I want my children to grow up in a world where their sisters and brothers are loved and lovable, no matter what they look like, or what they believe.
My faith in Jesus tells me that I am not a part of an exclusive or judgmental club, but a part of an ever-widening circle of love for the world that God so loves.
That is what my calling as a pastor tells me. This is what the gospel tells me to do: to love God and to love my neighbors as myself, all my neighbors. I wanted to show by example to my children that is what we do in our family.
2. Maybe more importantly, I stayed because there was a Muslim couple who stayed through the whole evening and put up with every word of hatred and misinformation directed toward them and their religion.
Toward the end of the event, I went over to them and bent down to hand them a note. I apologized to them on behalf of Christians and to tell them there are many of us who are glad they are here in Willmar and we love them.
Afterward, the husband called me “brother,” and we spent 30 minutes talking in the parking lot. He gave me a hug and told me a big thank you for such a small act, but one that brought him to tears.
This is what we are about in the Willmar Interfaith Network: breaking down barriers so that we can build a healthier and happier Willmar because we believe we are better together.
Please know that when you share a little love and acts of kindness and mercy with your brothers and sisters of all kinds, it makes a difference. It also reminds us that we are all a part of God’s big, diverse, and beloved family in this world.
Rev. Dane Skilbred is a pastor at Vinje Lutheran Church in Willmar and a member of the Willmar Interfaith Network.