Christian and Islamic organizations in Rome revere the importance of diversity
By: Olivia Mead
Diversity of race and religious text interpretation is valued and sought after by West Rome Baptist church and the Rome Islamic Center; both organizations find this endeavor complex and challenging.
“I would say that we are somewhat racially diverse and our desire is to be more racially diverse,” Executive Pastor of West Rome Baptist Church, Topher Stockton, said. “We are working hard to bring people together regardless of the color of their skin, their upbringing, or their history. While we are not fully racially diverse, I wouldn’t say there’s a church in Rome that is.”
Stockton expressed a desire to invite all kinds of people into the West Rome church community to create not only a racially diverse environment, but one that is also denominationally diverse.
“We believe in scripture and we try to live by scripture,” Stockton said. “Being Baptist is a part of who we are, but it’s not the defining factor of who we are. We have people here who are from all types of denominational backgrounds.”
Although West Rome is open to new church members of any ethnicity, it is unclear what tactics the organization uses to deliberately reach these members.
“We want to help people to come together,” Stockton said. We’re going to spend eternity together. We want to see churches come together as the body of Christ, not just these individual pockets.”
Nadeem Abdul Hamid, a leader within the Rome Islamic Center, offered an alternative perspective on inner-faith diversity, from the eyes of a religious head in a highly diverse organization.
“The community’s pretty mixed, as is common, you’ll find a lot of different cultures that come together,” Hamid said. “There are immigrants from all over the world, and also people who were born and raised in Rome.”
Islam’s origins are, indeed, inherently quite diverse. According to research from Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, Islam serves as the primary religion in the Middle East, North Africa, and large parts of Asia. Such a wide variation of roots allows for a more racially-varied faith group.
Hamid recognized the importance of preserving this diverse community.
“My family has had various interactions that really strengthen our faith [through diversity],” Hamid said. “It just opens your eyes to see that the way we are practicing is not the one and only way. There’s a big spectrum in terms of flexibility in how people live, according to Islam.”
Stockton agreed with Hamid’s desire to learn from members of the community who have different backgrounds than him.
“I want to hear what somebody feels, what they believe, and why, and be able to express the same,” Stockton said. “I want to show mutual respect and have open conversation; we want to listen, and we are not religious to the point of saying, ‘it’s our way or the highway.’”
Both West Rome Baptist and the Rome Islamic Center share a goal of involving the entire Rome community in their services.
“Our immediate goals right now within the community itself are just to get people involved in coming to the prayer services, educational activities, and raise the level of awareness,” Hamid said.
Both representative groups in Rome are united in their efforts to include all kinds of people, regardless of heritage.
“I think it’s important to be diverse because the kingdom of God is diverse,” Stockton said. “When we get to heaven, we’re all going to be hanging out together and we’ll all be one family. Why not seek to have that now?”