Perhaps what the world needs most now is a renewed emphasis on what it means to be a good neighbour.
For Michael Barnes, the minister of Gordon United Church in New South Wales, Australia, being a neighbour entails doing everything in his power to make sure marginalized groups feel welcome in their own homes. That’s why Barnes is sending the powerful message that Muslims are welcome in his church — and he hopes the community at large will follow suit.
“There has been concern bubbling around in Australia for most of this year about discrimination against minorities,” Barnes told HuffPost, citing suggested legislation that would have altered the protections guaranteed in Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act.
“I’ve been aware of this issue for some time; often when I listen to comments of ‘ordinary and good’ people in the local community I am surprised to hear misunderstanding and anxiety expressed about Muslims.”
The rise of the Islamic State has played a major role in stoking these fears, Barnes said, specifically as news of Australian recruits joining the militants’ ranks surfaced. The Australian government has cracked down on suspected home-grown terror plots, with counterterrorism police conducting raids in some Muslim communities.
“Images of arrested Muslims dominated our airwaves for quite a few days,” Barnes said. “I was concerned that this, unwittingly, fed into and exacerbated general fear and anxiety in the community and more importantly that it made Muslims feel unwelcome in their own country.”
The motto of Gordon United Church is “Love wastefully” — a charge to promote inclusivity at all costs. Thus Barnes took the tools at his disposal — in this case the sign outside his church — to promote a different kind of attitude toward Muslims in the community.
“I wanted the church to be seen to offer a different message, to be neighborly and to offer welcome,” Barnes told HuffPost.
Barnes isn’t stopping with the church sign. Throughout October, Gordon United Church is celebrating “Interfaith Month” which will include services on Buddhism and indigenous traditions, in addition to a discussion lead by community member Mehmet Saral on “Why jihadists do not represent Islam.”