COLUMBIA — The Missouri United Methodist Church was bare of any religious paraphernalia during a news conference urging tolerance among religions, signifying its push for compassion.
About 60 people attended the conference Monday where eight local religious leaders urged members of all religious affiliations to stand together. Members of several faiths attended the news conference. Rep. Mary Still, D-Columbia, also attended.
Amy Gearhart, senior pastor at the United Methodist Church, moderated the event aimed at promoting solidarity and tolerance in face of the recent national incidents involving anti-Muslim sentiments.
Taha Hameduddin of the Islamic Center of Central Missouri started his speech with a prayer of Moses asking for openness to his message. Hameduddin congratulated the audience and the speakers for gathering to promote friendship among religions.
He also highlighted the misconceptions surrounding Islam.
“Mutual respect and religious tolerance are teachings of the Quran," Hameduddin said. "And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”
David Finke, local chairman of the Religious Society of Friends, also known as Quakers, reminded the audience of America’s history of discrimination against many religions.
“The mindset which promotes burning the sacred books of another faith differs only in degree from promoting the burning of houses of worship,” Finke said. “And it can be but a small step toward burning people.”
Finke mentioned several incidents, including the persecution of Quakers in the 1660s and the anti-Catholic riots of the 19th century. He said current discriminatory sentiments are similar to those that led to the Holocaust.
“We must respect the ability of each to pursue our religious practices without harassment," Finke said. "To do otherwise is to be profoundly un-American.”
Gearhart called for a renewed focus on dialogue among different faiths in the community.
“We should do this by simply asking, ‘Do we know our neighbors?’” Gearhart said.
Columbia residents welcomed the effort to promote tolerance among religions.
“I’m so glad we’re doing this,” said Judith Heffernan, a member of the United Methodist Church and longtime Columbia resident.
Speakers at the event also included: Kerry Hollander, executive director of Hillel, the Jewish Campus Center at MU; the Rev. Bonnie Cassida of Bethel Baptist Church; and the Rev. Otto Steinhaus, retired pastor and co-chairman of the Columbia Human Rights Commission.
The Baha’i and Hindu communities were also represented.