York County pastors call on Christians to love Muslims, ‘fear not’

Two dozen Christian pastors in York County have joined together to call on members of their faith to embrace Muslims as their brothers and sisters.

The Rev. Sam McGregor, pastor at Allison Creek Presbyterian Church near Lake Wylie, said he jump-started the local effort because of recent threats against Muslims in the United States that came to light during the trial of Robert Doggart.

Doggart, a failed congressional candidate from Tennessee, pleaded guilty this month to plotting to kill Muslims who live in a religious community in New York. The FBI uncovered and stopped Doggart’s plan.

A similar community, called Holy Islamville, has existed in York County for nearly 30 years. Members of the local community have said they’re fearful for their own safety after hearing of Doggart’s violent plans in New York and learning that he tried to recruit people from South Carolina to help him.

“We have got to take a stand,” McGregor said.

He and 23 other York County religious leaders submitted a letter to The Herald in Rock Hill on Friday saying they are “opposed to any acts of violence or threats of violence against anyone due to their religious affiliation.”

The letter also states: “Any Christian who uses their faith as a basis for bringing harm upon another has completely misunderstood what it means to lift up the Lordship of Jesus Christ.”

The pastors who signed come from churches in the county’s urbanized areas such as Rock Hill and Fort Mill and from rural towns such as Sharon.

Fear, McGregor said, has driven many Christians to disparage Muslims, shun interactions with other faith groups, and not take a stand against violence and hateful rhetoric. That behavior isn’t in line with Jesus’ teachings, he said.

“The God who made me is the same God that made every other human on this Earth. … We are all brothers and sisters,” McGregor said.

He also said he’s proud of York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant, who recently said his deputies will remain vigilant in protecting Islamville – the same way they’ll protect every other resident, regardless of religious beliefs.

The letter from the pastors is a call for dialogue among followers of Jesus, Muslims, and other religious people, said The Rev. Barry Lambert of Sharon. He hopes local Christian churches will plan joint events with the Islamville community and open their hearts and minds.

Some members of the Rev. Jeff Lingle’s Epiphany Lutheran Church in Rock Hill have visited Islamville in York. Open conversations and learning from one another are ways to combat fear and the “tunnel vision” or “unfair” view that some people have about Muslims, Lingle said.

His stance, McGregor says, may be unpopular. He expects he and other pastors who signed the letter may be bombarded with angry emails or phone calls.

Already, he said, in developing the letter, two local pastors disagreed with calling Muslims their “brothers and sisters.” Those two people did not sign McGregor’s letter, he said, because he wouldn’t change the wording.

“I said, ‘Thanks, but that change will not be made.’ … We are all God’s creatures and that makes us brothers and sisters.”