When a suicide bomb exploded as worshippers left New Year’s mass at a Coptic church in Alexandria, 21 people died and 79 were wounded. It’s hard to imagine a more grim, ghastly, or tragic way to ring in a new decade.
But during Coptic Christmas later that month, Egyptian Muslims formed a human wall around the church, ensuring peaceful worship and demonstrating the utmost respect for their Christian compatriots. In an act of equal loyalty, Egyptian Christians formed a human chain around Muslims during Friday prayers in Tahrir Square during the mass demonstrations in February.
What can we make of this? Rev. Jim Wallis, a leading progressive Evangelical voice in America, has a saying: “God is personal, but never private.” By imagining religion only as a private affair, we ignore the important public elements of faith — whether it means garnering strength from prayer during times of chaos or living out religious convictions by protecting others so they can practice freely.
The truth is each of the world religions call us to engage with one another in public ways, whether it is to house the homeless, feed the hungry, or steward the earth. No matter how we envision heaven, it’s hard to find a religion or philosophical tradition that doesn’t call followers to contribute to our common life here on earth. In taking up this charge religion cannot help but appear in our public square.