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Asking the Clergy: How should door-to-door missionaries be greeted?

From left, the Rev. Karen Ann Campbell of

From left, the Rev. Karen Ann Campbell of Christ Episcopal Church, Isma H. Chaudhry of the Islamic Center of Long Island, and Cantor Irene Failenbogen of The New Synagogue of Long Island. Credit: Karen Ann Campbell; Islamic Center of Long Island;Irene Failenbogen

A knock on your front door this summer may not signal the delivery of a package but instead a stranger delivering a religious message. This week’s clergy discuss how to react to uninvited proselytizing.

Cantor Irene Failenbogen

The New Synagogue of Long Island, Brookville

Responding to door-to-door missionaries creates a dilemma for me as a Jewish person taught the redeeming value of hospitality most notably in the story of Sarah welcoming angels. (Genesis 18: 1-15) In that situation, the angels were called to deepen Sarah’s faith. How can I know that these strangers are called to deepen my Judaism?

Furthermore, as one whose central prayer is called the “Shema,” meaning “listen,” I’m not certain how to listen to someone who offers a fundamental faith package that I don’t need. Interestingly, the Shema prayer is on the mezuzah, the Jewish ornament in the doorway of my house. Also, as someone who loves a good interfaith conversation and the revelation it can offer, I feel frustrated in the presence of a person who doesn’t seem interested in any revelation I can share with them.

What is one to do in the face of a person whose mission is to fundamentally change you? My first instinct is to run away or hide. I know this is not mature of me, but it is my first, visceral reaction. Some Jewish people point to the mezuzah and offer a polite gesture ushering the missionaries on their way. This is a better way to avoid confrontation and stand up for your faith. You might add words in a spirit of kindness and graciousness, saying, “No thank you. I am happy with my faith.”

Next time a missionary rings my bell with religious propaganda I will remember these words and ask myself: “What would Sarah do right now?”

Isma H. Chaudhry

Board of trustees chair, Islamic Center of Long Island, Westbury

The Holy Quran says, “The same religion has been established for you that we enjoined on Noah; that which we have sent as inspiration to you Muhammad and that which we enjoined on Abraham, Moses and Jesus. That you stay steadfast in religion and make no divisions therein.” (41:13)

Religious and spiritual insecurities may lead us to be radical in our approach to reaching out to people. God established religions to determine rituals of worship and codes of justice and morals, not to divide us.

In the Muslim tradition, when someone knocks at your door, he is a guest and as such is to be treated with respect. I would suggest a short, pleasant, honest comment, affirming respect for the other religious tradition. One might also offer a warm beverage on a cold day or a cold drink on a warm day while expressing that more conversation on the topic of theology might invoke sensitivities and be perceived as disrespectful. Following a religious or nonreligious tradition is a choice that should be respected and not undermined.

The Rev. Karen Ann Campbell

Christ Episcopal Church, Sag Harbor

Jesus never states clearly that we are to welcome the stranger. As usual, he tells a story. The parable ends with the King saying, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Matthew 25:35-40)

My husband, as a young U.S. Air Force lieutenant, took a slightly different approach. To missionary callers, he would open the door and listen as the people dressed all in black would ask, “Do you know that sin and brokenness is all around us?” To which he would open the door wider to allow his callers to see the dregs of the poker party, which had broken up only a few hours earlier. “Why, yes,” he would say, “and it was here last night.”

I take a different approach from my family. We Episcopalians had a whole decade of evangelism, and I think not one door was knocked on. I take my hat off to people who will go door to door to spread their faith. I try to listen politely and then tell them, “I am a priest in the Episcopal Church. We have our own faith in God and the love of Jesus. Thank you for sharing your faith. Have a blessed day.”

DO YOU HAVE QUESTIONS you’d like Newsday to ask the clergy? Email them to LILife@newsday.com. Find more LI Life stories at newsday.com/LILife.

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