This week, I’ve been following the news out of New York regarding the proposed construction of a Muslim mosque in the heart of Manhattan, just blocks away from “Ground Zero”, the site of the 9/11 attacks from 2001. Nearly 10 years after the attack, the wounds are still fresh for many Americans. According to a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll released August 11, nationwide opposition to the construction of this mosque is at 68 percent. This is understandable; nearly 3,000 Americans — mostly civilians — died on the morning of September 11th, the darkest moment in the national consciousness of most Americans today. Although there is certainly no law preventing the construction of such a facility, the wisdom of such a move — especially in light of the national attention this story is garnering — is questionable. Most Americans consider this action to be, as Howard Dean has said, “an affront to people who lost their lives.” One leader went so far as to say the construction of this mosque was akin to a Japanese war memorial at Pearl Harbor.
And yet, in moments like these, I’m also struck at how quickly the discourse devolves and unravels into vitriolic distinctions of “us” and “them”. The accusation has been made that some want to interpret freedom of religion as only being applicable to the Christian community. It’s easy to see how such an accusation could have merit. Are American Muslims not guaranteed the same freedom of religion under our Constitution? Do we hold the entire Islamic faith responsible for the actions of a handful of radical extremists? What would happen if the greater Christian community was judged in light of the actions of, say, extremists who attack and destroy abortion clinics, all in the name of Jesus? I understand this is an emotionally charged issue for many Americans, but I believe we’re all too quick to let those emotions cloud our judgment. A recent FoxNews report indicates that an inter-faith chapel at the rebuilt section of the Pentagon opens its doors to practicing Muslims, even allowing weekly periods of time (Monday through Thursday, 2 p.m.) for Muslim prayer. All of this a mere 20 steps from the impact of the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon. And yet, where is the national outrage? Is the Pentagon less “hallowed ground” than Ground Zero? These and a hundred other questions come swirling out of this controversial issue.
In times such as these, I find myself asking, “What does faithfulness to Christ look like here?” With such heated and passionate dialogue centered around the construction of this mosque, how does the Christ-follower engage in this dialogue faithfully? Thankfully, the New Testament is all kinds of helpful here:
- Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. Colossians 4.6
- Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 1 Timothy 4.12
- But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also. 2 Corinthians 8.7
Paul seems to be arguing in favor gracious Christian speech, a nuanced act of truth-speaking and grace. Know how to answer each person; yes. But the path to such dialogue is gracious, seasoned speech, not caustic, spiteful language. Personally, I question the wisdom of the construction of this mosque. But in this situation, as in all others, the Christian community must be mindful of her high and holy calling: to bear the name of Christ in the world with faithfulness and grace, dignity and love. This is the way of Christ.