Months ago I was asked to blog about a proposed mosque (actually it is an Islamic Community Center) being built at “Ground Zero” (more precisely it is being built two blocks from “Ground Zero”). At the time I felt it was a lose-lose proposition and my feelings haven’t changed. I do, however, feel obligated to clear up some common logical missteps that are being circulated around the “interweb.” This story combines many emotive factors: race, religion, and war. There is an explosive mix of misinformation, anger, xenophobia, nationalism, and religious fervor. The scars of 9/11 run deep in the lives of many Americans. However, the recent “War on Terror” has, among other things, produced a caricature of Muslims in the mind of the everyday American. I am very sensitive to the feelings of those effected by 9/11. Nevertheless, “feelings” are not a proper form of argument in a discussion on religious liberty. Many Americans have unfairly designated Muslims as terrorists in post-9/11 America. As a Christian it is important to be calm and fair while discussing the building of a “mosque” at “Ground Zero.” There is no room in Christianity for “Islamophobia” or dishonest caricature. A Christian response to Islam should be centered on the gospel (e.g., graceful and honest) while generously embracing religious liberty.
It is dangerous to categorize religious groups as homogeneous entities. In many ways there is no one form of “Hinduism” or “Buddhism” or “Islam.” While various sects share overlapping beliefs they often exhibit more diversity than unity. Even in Christianity it is difficult to categorize modern day Christians as a unified group. While I think the standard of Christianity is the Bible, the diversity of self-proclaimed Christians stretches the meaning of the word infinitely thin. I bristle at the thought of being identified with the likes of Ted Haggard, Benny Hinn, Fred Phelps, or any number of infamous “Christian” personalities (in my opinion these self-identified “Christians” are some of the least likely persons I know to actually be followers of Christ). These are only the famous examples; countless people claim to be “Christian” but deny the basic teachings of Jesus in their lifestyle.
Treat Others as You Want to Be Treated
If I am unwilling to allow unbelievers (i.e., non-Christians) to define me by the actions of other Christians, then I must be willing to allow Muslims a voice in their self-identity. Surely some Muslims have used Islam as a means to justify war against others. Does the Quran encourage violence? That is a debate outside of our purview and I would caution my Christian friends to remember the often violent stories in the Hebrew Bible before hastily condemning the Quran. Many Muslims (if not most Muslims) insist that Islamic fundamentalists and Islamic terrorists do not represent the whole of Islam. If my “Christianity” is different than that of Fred Phelps then I must allow Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf (the project’s lead architect) to distance his faith from that of Osama Bin Laden. The August 16, 2010 issue of Time Magazine did a good job explaining the irony of a moderate Muslim (i.e., Rauf) being categorized with Islamic Terrorists:
The project’s critics range from those who believe Islam was the malevolent force that brought down the towers to opportunistic politicians. Ironically, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan, the project’s main movers, are precisely the kind of Muslim leaders conservative commentators should welcome: modernists who condemn the death cult of al-Qaeda. Rauf is a Sufi, Islam’s most mystical and accomodating branch, yet he finds himself accused of extremist leanings. This browbeating of a moderate Muslim empowers the al-Qaeda narrative that the West loathes everything about Islam. As New York Mayor Mike Bloombergs said, caving to Park 51’s critics “would be to hand a victory to the terrorists.” Rauf and Khan hope their project will promote greater interfaith dialogue. The furor underlines how much it is needed.
Newt Gingrich and several other public figures have tried to compare America with Saudi Arabia. “There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia” said Gingrich. The silliness of this statement is astounding. First, Saudi Arabia is governed by Sharia law which is based, ostensibly, on the Quran and the teachings of Islam. It would make sense that a country like this would be exclusive in their allowance or disallowance of other religions. However, Saudi Arabia (though central to Islam because of the holy city of Mecca and other such religious sites) is not the sole representative of the international Muslim community. In any case, America is founded on religious freedom. I expect America to have a higher standard than most countries in regard to issues of religious freedom (for a humorous look at this issue you can turn to the always hilarious Daily Show).
America and the False Pretense of Freedom
Some of the most fervently patriotic people I know are opposed to a Mosque being built at “Ground Zero.” Apparently, all of the talk about America as the “land of freedom” is a lie. For those who are interested, freedom means that people can do things that upset you as long as it does not break any laws or endanger the lives of others. As long as a group can finance a building and it fits into the zoning restrictions of a particular locale then they are permitted to build. If we do not allow Muslims to build religious buildings where they desire then the American ideal of freedom is a charade. You cannot say we live in a free country and then deny a significant group of people the right to build a religious building. If a Muslim group wants to build a community center in New York City, they can! I do not want any group of people telling me where I can or cannot build a Christian community center, therefore I cannot oppose Muslims building a mosque. Just as free speech applies to idiots who say things that I do not like, freedom allows a Muslim group to build a community center near “Ground Zero” (despite the perceived insensitivity of those in charge of this project).
A Note to My Christian Readers
It is easy for Christians to be so consumed with special interest causes that they miss the plot of the gospel. Christianity is not at war with Islam (despite the way some Muslims may feel toward Christians and vice versa). There is no room in Christianity for hatred toward another religion, race, or people group. Further, Christians cannot use dishonest representation to make a point. Christians should be the first to embrace Muslims around the nation, showing them hospitality, love, and genuine care. In the process there might be an opportunity to model the gospel that was demonstrated by the scandalous (e.g., Luke 7:36-50) love of Jesus that breaks through social barriers (John 4:1-42; Galatians 3:28). Jesus died for me, a sinful, rebellious, angry person; I was spiritually opposed to God (Romans 8:5-8). I was, in some sense, spiritually at war with God. Yet Christ found me in a dead and decaying state and graciously gave me new life (Ephesians 2:1-10). I didn’t deserve the love of God. Therefore, I do not love Muslims because they “deserve” it or because they have been particularly kind to me. I love them because Christ first loved me (1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:14). I love them because of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
As a Christian I am glad that the myth of Christian America is quickly crumbling. People are no longer able to substitute heritage and tradition for genuine faith. In the process of spreading the gospel to the nations, the nations have started to come to America. I no longer have to travel to the Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Kosovo, or any of the myriad of Muslim majority nations to share the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ with a follower of Islam. Instead, Muslims are in my community. Rather than opposing their traditions and customs I embrace their culture and seek to honestly and lovingly expose them with the beauty of the true and living God.
As a Christian I am confident that the only hope for everyone is the gospel of Jesus. The solution is not legislation, picketing, name-calling, or fighting but the power of the gospel demonstrated through the honest, sacrificial love of Christians to all people. A love that is willing to endure insult, abuse, injury, and death for the sake of the gospel.