In the aftermath of a Texas synagogue attack last month, a behind-the-scenes effort is shining new light on multi-faith cooperation.
That effort brought together local pastors, imams and Jewish leaders who worked alongside law enforcement to help a rabbi and three other hostages during a tense, 10-hour stand-off Jan. 15th in Colleyville.
Awareness of such multi-faith work has spurred interest in a national conference next month and comes as the U.S. government is drawing attention to threats against houses of worship.
On Monday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) warned of a “heightened threat environment” citing both foreign and domestic actors and highlighted calls for violence against soft targets and mass gatherings such as people meeting in houses of worship.
It’s a threat that multi-faith advocate and Ft. Worth evangelical pastor Bob Roberts takes seriously. He co-founded the Multi-Faith Neighbors Network in 2020 and has led multi-faith peacemaking missions around the world for years. He’s forged relationships with Islamic, Jewish and other faith leaders seeking the common good for their communities.
The work paid off in his own backyard when he learned of the hostage standoff at Beth Israel synagogue.
“I had relationships because I’ve worked with the pastors, the imams, the rabbis in the DFW area,” he told CBN News. “When the crisis came I could respond. It was basically purely because of the relationships.”
Roberts connected law enforcement with a local imam who came to the scene immediately.
“I explained to them that this man could de-escalate the situation like no one else,” he said. “It enabled us to get him in the room with us and we were able to work scenarios. At the same time, the rabbi’s family was there in the room so we were giving them comfort. It was all about relationships.”
Later in the day, the hostages were able to escape and law enforcement shot and killed the gunman, who reportedly made anti-Semitic statements and was calling for the release of a Pakistani scientist serving a prison sentence in the Colleyville area.
It’s one of the latest examples of a hate crime against a faith-based organization, and evidence of a growing threat, according to DHS.
On Monday, the department warned of a potent mix of factors that have created a heightened threat environment for faith-based institutions like churches, synagogues, and mosques. It noted the proliferation of false narratives which are undermining trust in the U.S. government along with foreign terrorist calls for attacks on the homeland and calls for violence against houses of worship as well as religious and racial minorities, universities, and law enforcement.
Roberts said that today’s polarized climate makes multi-faith work all the more urgent.
“We’re all dealing with threats of violence in churches, mosques, and synagogues,” he said. “If we don’t come together and have some consistent ways of working together when these crises come, we’re in trouble.”
News of Roberts’ behind-the-scenes role in helping the hostages appears to have spurred interest in the approach. Registration has spiked for a multi-faith forum he’s organizing in Keller, Texas March 6-7th. It will bring together high-profile faith leaders from different religions as well as Rashad Hussian, the US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, and those who’ve formerly held the position, including Ambassador David Saperstein and Ambassador Sam Brownback.