I rarely wade into political issues on this blog… and when I do I almost always regret it. That aside, here are some thoughts on the Mosque at Ground Zero controversy…
I think those who oppose the project are wrong. I think they are wrong factually, I think they are wrong politically, and I think they are wrong ethically/morally. More so, as a Christian, I think they are wrong spiritually.
First, the project in question in neither a mosque nor at Ground Zero. The project is actually two blocks away and is for an Islamic Community Center that would include a prayer room/mosque as well as community gathering space, recreational space, childcare, etc. The project would also include a 9/11 memorial. (You can get more facts about the project here).
Second, it is difficult to argue that the area two blocks away from Ground Zero is “hallowed ground”. Just look at the other establishments in that area (or equal distance from Ground Zero). Note the photo above and the full photo essay here (including the strip club).
First, anyone who thinks that we are at war against Islam is wrong. Islam did not attack the United States on 9/11 anymore than Christianity attacked the United States when Tim McVeigh and other self-proclaimed Christians bombed the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Every religion has dangerous, radical, fundamentalist elements that are dangerous — and not representative of the faith. When we expand our “war” to be a crusade against all of Islam, we (a) lose focus on what we should focus on, and (b) are on very dangerous and morally suspect ground.
Second, one of the best things we can do to make the world safer is to build bridges and relationships with mainstream Muslims — both domestically and globally. The public and shrill opposition to this project is doing serious damage to our reputation and ability to build those bridges. In other words, for those who are concerned about security issues, opposing the project is actually counter-productive.
First, I don’t think anyone can seriously doubt the legal right to build the community center. Yet, the opposition is using every tool they have in terms of zoning and legal challenges. In a very different context (and on a very different scale) I have been on the other side of us. As a pastor, the church I was at was proposing a community center (including a public park and athletic fields) that would also have worship space. The legal and zoning challenges from a few in the community who opposed us cost a fortune and took months. All the opposition was based on fear and misinformation — very similar to this situation.
Second, affirmation of the First Amendment’s protections for freedom of religion and freedom of assembly must trump all other concerns — especially the issue of some people just being offended. The First Amendment is a bedrock principle in this country and part of what defines us. The day that Muslims are denied the equal protection of law and equal access is the day that the terrorist will really have won.
Especially for Christians, I think there are three important principles to remember:
First, LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR. Muslims are my neighbor. This is true in NYC, this is true in our own community, and this is true globally. We are commanded not to tolerate our neighbors, but to love them — fully, sincerely, authentically, sacrificially and practically.
Second, LOVE YOUR ENEMY. I do not consider Muslims to be my enemy. I do consider those who attacked the United States — and those who support those who do — to be my enemies. But even so, I am commanded to love my enemies — fully, sincerely, authentically, sacrificially and practically.
Third, FORGIVE QUICKLY AND SEEK RECONCILIATION. Before we publicly speak on these issues as Christians, we need to do a heart-check. Have we forgiven those who have attacked us? Do we hold bias and animosity against Muslims generally, Islam broadly or any group/nationality? If so we must extend forgiveness (when we have been attacked), seek it when we have been in the wrong, and always seek reconciliation. It is core to the Gospel and central to what it means to be a Christ-follower.
So for all those reasons, I think those who are opposing the project are incorrect in their opposition.