(KNOXVILLE) We’re better together – that was the message Monday night from an interfaith meeting in Knoxville.
Hosted by the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist church, the "Love Our Neighbors: Faith Over Fear Gathering" was organized by senior minister Chris Buice.
“This is a chance to build bridges and build community together,” he said.
Buice said he organized the gathering in response to recent calls to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., and in the wake of the fatal shooting of 15-year-old Zaevion Dobson last week.
“There’s definitely response to some things that are out there in the political environment, but what we’re really worried about is how it affects neighbor to neighbor, and how it affects our community,” said Buice. “We don’t want any politician making us afraid of our neighbors.”
The meeting drew several hundred people from many faith traditions: Jews, Muslims, Christians. That included Rafiq Mahdi, an imam of the Knoxville Muslim Community. Mahdi gave a primer on the Muslim faith, countering perceptions that it accepts violence.
He said he hopes by sharing his experience, they can dispel these negative prejudices.
“Fear and hatred are strong emotions, and hard to overcome sometimes,” Mahdi said. “But we have to make that step.”
The TVUUC has fallen victim to hatred before. In July 2008, a gunman walked into a children’s musical, killing two and injuring seven at the Kingston Pike church.
Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch was there Monday night, both to speak and sooth audience concerns that such a large, diverse gathering could become a target.
Rausch spoke about Zaevion Dobson’s death. The teen was a victim of random gun violence last week. The Fulton High School student and football player fell on his friends, saving them.
“We’ve got some work to do in our community,” Rausch said. “We’ve got to combat this violence through love, understanding and peace.”
After a multi-denominational prayer, the gathering broke off into smaller discussion groups, to share experiences.
“It’s good to hear what those communities are thinking and experiencing,” said Michael Pardee, a member of Knoxville’s Jewish community.
But also on their minds – those that were not in attendance.
“I think people should do their homework and find out more before they condemn other faiths,” said Kate McCullough, a member of TVUUC.
“It’s important for people to know that all the major world religions are for peace,” said Buice. “We stand against religious terrorism, but we also stand against reactive religious bigotry.”
He said they hope this can become part of a larger movement of tolerance.