PHILADELPHIA (BRN) – I serve at Drexel, which is in University City, a very specific part of Philadelphia that includes several colleges. It is one of the most diverse parts of the world. I can whisper on the street corner between Drexel and UPenn and the whole world will hear it. This is both a curse and a blessing. I can touch the whole world. But the whole world touches us.
On Saturday, Oct. 14, I checked my university email early in the morning. The faculty advisor for the Drexel Muslim Student Association chose to inform me, the Provost, the Senior Vice President, and the Dean of Students that a Palestinian American Drexel student had lost 15 of his relatives earlier that week.
I was included in this email because both the advisor and the student were my friends. I often interact with the Muslim students on campus and have even been introduced to their parents as the Christian who cares about the Muslims.
About an hour later, I re-check my email. More has happened. There is a university-wide email from Drexel’s president and a follow-up from the on-campus Rabbi. Antisemitic graffiti was found in one of our buildings. In the Rabbi’s email, she specifically mentions how I took the time to be present with the Jewish students over the past week as an example of someone going out of their way to support the Jewish community on campus.
The chaos throughout the world is never far removed from a university campus.
The next week I was invited by our Rabbi to bring words as a Christian representative during an event in the Jewish Life Center in response to the antisemitism on campus. Our 13-year working relationship has fostered a strong sense of mutual trust. She wanted me to be thoroughly and explicitly Christian. I submitted my remarks for her approval beforehand.
With the Rabbi’s blessing at a specifically Jewish event, I was able to say, “An early Christian letter goes so far as to say Jesus died for his enemies. As a self-identified Jesus follower, that is the example I am trying to emulate. … I want to make this explicitly clear, if there is any way my presence can help protect you, if there is any way my participation can absorb some hatred and violence on your behalf, I am committed to being that type of person for you and that type of influence at Drexel. … With this in mind, in the image of Jesus, we don’t stand beside our Jewish friends and family in their time of need. We should stand in front. With full transparency, this is freely offered to any and all members of the Drexel community. This means you might see me standing next to my Muslim friends who are members of our community in a very similar way that I stand next to my Jewish friends.”
Later that week, I attended a Muslim memorial for the innocent victims who have died in Gaza. A Drexel alum shook my hand afterward, commenting on how he should have known I would be there. One student referenced how I was on their side of things. Before I could redirect it, another Muslim student answered for me saying, “Brian is not necessarily choosing sides. He is just here being with us in our pain because that’s what Isa (Jesus) would do.”
My heart has broken many times in the last couple of weeks over the pain of my Jewish and Muslim friends at Drexel. I have been devastated by their grief, fear and anger. But it has also been one of the greatest privileges of my life to represent Christ to both communities in this time of pain. I hate that I have to do it but I also love that I can demonstrate God’s love in this way.