If I were asked to give a tour in Kansas City of sites that related to the history of Presbyterians here, I might start near 10th and Forest, where old First Presbyterian Church was located.
At the end of the Civil War, some members broke away from First and created Second Presbyterian Church (now my congregation), an anti-slavery congregation that was located roughly where Bartle Hall is now until it burned to the ground. Second then moved to 55th and Brookside, where it's been for more than 100 years.
No doubt such a tour also would include Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, which got created after World War II with leadership from the Rev. Robert Meneilly, who led the congregation for decades.
But what about a tour of Muslim sites in KC? Well, I have been to -- and could take others to -- such places as the Al-Inshirah mosque near 36th and Troost and the Al Haqq mosque near 69th and Prospect. Plus the Islamic Center of Johnson County and some other institutions.
But it would be much better if Kansas City had someone like Katherine Merriman, a Ph.D. candidate in Islamic studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. As this New Yorker piece explains, she offers tours of Islamic sites in New York City (she grew up near there), and they are turning out to be popular and eye-opening.
“There are roughly three hundred mosques in New York City,” the article quotes her as saying. “New York is one of the most, if not the most, diverse Muslim cities in the world."
Many Americans have no idea that the first Muslims came to this land long before it was a country -- many of them as slaves from Africa. And Muslims have been finding their way in the American culture ever since -- often with considerable resistance from people who imagine all Muslims are terrorists or religious extremists of some kind.
Maybe I should start a "Meet a Presbyterian" opportunity, too. Or, better yet, "Muslims and Presbyterians, Meet Each Other."
(The photo here today is one I took several years ago at Al-Inshirah.)
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A CONFERENCE'S ANTI-MUSLIM BACKGROUND
The recent U.S. State Department-sponsored conference in Washington on religious freedom seemed to gather many of the people who needed to be there, and officials said many things that needed to be said. But let's look beneath the surface. RNS blogger Jacob Lupfer has done just that here, and he finds reasons to be concerned. He writes: "It’s plain, to begin with, that the impetus for putting on the event has much to do with President Trump’s indebtedness to conservative evangelical Christians for his election. To their credit, American evangelicals have engaged religious freedom issues for some time. But the dominance of evangelicals in this sphere carries with it costs and oversights, including excessive deference to politicians and co-religionists who have shown hostility toward Islam." Besides, it's always good to be a little wary of Sam Brownback, the disastrous former Kansas governor who now is the U.S. ambassador for international religious freedom and who was at the forefront of this recent gathering. He may be saying many of the right things, but that's no guarantee that what he means by religious liberty is what many of the rest of us mean.