Have faith in the power of outreach

Credit: Journal Argus

At a recent meeting at East Nissouri Union Church, Ronald Easton of the Christian Services Centre organization talked about efforts to bring Bible study to Ontario public schools, to be offered during what are commonly known as “nutrition breaks”.
Taken in isolation, this might not seem controversial. The population of our small-town and rural schools are dominated by families with Judeo-Christian backgrounds, who are aware that many people in their communities attend church regularly. No one is being forced to study the Bible; where Easton’s organization has been successful, it’s simply offered as an alternative.
But we know such activities ARE controversial. Just look at the uproar in Toronto recently, when it was revealed that Muslim clerics were offering Friday prayers inside public schools, as an alternative to devout adherents leaving for a time to visit a mosque.
The conservative-minded Toronto Sun newspaper may have been the main media outlet calling for the removal of the imams, but there was opposition from various fronts. That included followers of a fairly radical, Christian politician from Holland, as well as a parents’ group drawn largely from the Hindu faith.
The argument against allowing the exploration of religion in schools was predictable in Toronto — a community populated by a wide array of cultures. If it’s available for one faith group, why isn’t it available for all? And, if it’s not, does the presence of religious study of one type make those who are not part of that group feel like they’re being left out?
And that argument is equally valid in rural, small-town Ontario. Despite the fact we’re predominantly from a Christian background, that demographic changes more and more all the time. Every year, a greater proportion of students in our schools come from families of a different faith — or of no faith at all.
Still, maybe one day, when a higher level of understanding and trust exists about the right to religious freedom, such non-mandatory, in-school explorations of faith might be acceptable.
It’s that kind of future that’s envisioned by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association of Canada, which comes to St. Marys on Saturday, Sept. 17 as part of Peace Week. The organization has been around since 1889 and has thousands of members in Canada. But, earlier this week, a representative of the organization called the Journal Argus to explain how it came to re-examine its role after a Christian pastor in Florida burned copies of the Muslim holy book (the Quran) in what his church said was a reaction to terrorism.
In an effort to inform the Canadian public about the widely-accepted teachings of the Quran, Ahmadiyya has been hosting open houses — like the one planned for Saturday at the Library from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. — ever since.
Let’s hope their cross-Canada outreach is successful, and inspires similar efforts from other faith groups.


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