Ground Zero

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.

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7 Responses to Ground Zero

  1. JamesBrett says:

    i agree that the construction of this mosque, in light of the current response is unwise at best (and hurtful, inconsiderate, and rude at worst). but i don’t believe, as christians, our response is to protest, argue, complain, and whine about what others do that is unloving or unkind. and certainly our response should not be to return hurt for hurt and uncaring for uncaring.

    i think it would be great if those muslims involved in the building of this learning center and mosque would modify their plans and build it elsewhere — but my response as a christian has to be one of loving kindness. i can’t imagine a Jesus who would be up in arms over the construction of another religion’s place of worship. and i can’t imagine a Jesus who would hold past wrongs of a few against them, and much less against others who are similar to them in some way.

    my thoughts (if i were a mom) are here:

  2. greg says:

    American muslims had nothing to do with 9/11, so them wanting to open a community center a few blocks away from this site shouldn’t be offensive to anyone. They are looking to do this in an area of the city where it is needed, and the location happens to be near ‘ground zero’. There’s already a mosque within a few blocks of the site, or so I understand. I’ve not yet heard exactly what the appropriate distance away should be. 5 blocks? 10? 15?

    This isn’t strictly about ‘ground zero’, either. This opposition to mosques and islam is happening around the country – Tennessee, Georgia and California are the states I recall, but there were several others as well.

  3. Don Gardner says:

    I think there are two issues here, one political and one spiritual.

    From the spiritual vantage point, I agree we as Christians must be careful in our expression of our feelings in order that we not destroy our influence for the cause of Chist. Indeed, I question whether Jesus would be concerned with the activities of a group that worshipped another god. While, he rebuked the Jewish leaders, it was because of their hypocrisy. They worshipped the one and living God, they knew the words of the prophets and yet they rejected theh son of God when He dwelt among them. I don’t recall that He ever rebuked the Romans, the Egyptians or any other idolatrous people. When Malchus, a Roman soldier tried to lead Jesus away and Peter cut off his ear, Jesus rebuked Peter, not Malchus, because He was more concerned with the actions of His followers than in the actions of pagans.

    On the political side, there is a great video series entitled “The Silencing of God: The Dismantling of America’s Christian Heritage.” One of the things I gleaned from this video series was the fact that historical docuemnts show that the intent of our forefathers was to build this nation on the principles of Christianity, with the recognition of one God, Jehovah. Nowhere did our forefathers mention Allah, Buddah or any other god, but the one true God. With that in mind, I question whether the “freedom of religion” should be extended to non-Christian religions. I realize in today’s world, mine is a radically conservative opinion, but one which I think would be shared by our forefathers if they were with us today.

  4. tara says:

    I can’t fathom the Jesus I know approving of the Muslim faith or their temples of worship no matter where the temples are built. Would he not stand and rebuke a false religion? Allah is not the God I know.

    The reason America is so hated by the Muslim world is because this country was founded upon freedom to worship God and serve Christ. And we are fooling ourselves if we are naive enough to believe Christianity and Islam can ever have a peaceful parallel existence. I only have a desire to appease Jesus, not the Muslim world, or Allah. I am worthy of death to a Muslim for stating such and have lost what I thought was a true Islamic friend for ever saying the word CHRIST to her.

  5. greg says:

    I question whether the “freedom of religion” should be extended to non-Christian religions.

    Wow. Does that extend to other freedoms as well? Are they only to be enjoyed by Christians? Would you support a law that forbids practicing any non-Christian religion (or no religion at all)?

    The reason America is so hated by the Muslim world is because this country was founded upon freedom to worship God and serve Christ.

    That has almost nothing to do with it, if anything at all.

  6. Jason says:

    I posted this on here last week, but apparently something messed up. Here it is again:

    I said pretty much everything I want to say about this in the original post, but I want to make a couple of points here in the comments section.
    My response to this whole issue is shaped by my understanding of the Gospel. I grew up with a combative attitude toward other faiths (Christian denominations, mainly, much less world religions). Lots of “us” vs. “them” language. It was sort of understood that we (as Christians) have to stand up and fight for our beliefs in the civic arena, else they’ll be taken away from us by the liberal left. Defending the Gospel was equated with voting Republican and vocally expressing my distaste for policy that infringed upon my faith. Freedom of religion was, for me, the means-justifying end that governed the way I voted and — more importantly — my relationship with God.

    I still retain some of those core values, but what’s changed for me is an awareness that Jesus never calls me to fight, at least not in the same way the world wages war. Jesus never says, “Take up your picket signs and follow me.” He doesn’t say, “Take up your arms, gird up your loins, and join me as we oust our liberal, leftist politicians from office.” He does say something about taking up our cross and following him daily. And this has greatly shaped my understanding of the Gospel. I believe the Gospel flourishes when we live in love and humility before our friends and neighbors. All too often, though, we bypass the opportunity to speak in love and opt for the popular, jingoistic, “you can build your mosque here when we can build a church in Saudi Arabia” approach. And we feel justified for speaking this way because we’re filled with righteous indignation when we do it. And, for me at least, this kind of mentality is pretty harmful. It’s been pretty easy for me to abandon the loving, grace-filled speech that the New Testament calls me to when an issue like this comes up that hits close to home. For a long time, I let my politics determine my theology. But it’s supposed to be the other way around. In fact, the Gospel is supposed to radically reorient everything about my life in light of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Sometimes I think Glenn Beck has more disciples than Jesus does.

    Does love mean blind “tolerance”? No. Does love mean refusing to speak up on issues like this? No. But love does require a higher level of discourse, one shaped by the example of Jesus who viewed everyone — religious leaders (Nicodemus), prostitutes, terrorists (Saul of Tarsus), extremists (Simon the Zealot), infidels (Matthew, Zaccheus) — as individuals made in the image of God. If nothing else, that should shape how we speak to and about the Muslim community.

    I’ll also say this: to equate all Muslims with the radical extremists behind 9/11 is a form of lowest-common-denominator thinking that I believe to be very dangerous. I don’t think we’d appreciate it if others held us responsible for the reprehensible actions of, say, child-abusing priests. Many Muslim Americans — in the aftermath of 9/11 and even today — have expressed tremendous sorrow that such grievous acts were committed in the name of Islam. I believe we can engage the Muslim community in dialogue that demonstrates love, not hatred or anger or resentment or bitterness. In fact, I believe that’s the only way any Muslim will ever be converted to Christianity. I also believe it’s the Way of Jesus. I just wish we’d heed the NT injunction to speak lovingly as well as truthfully.

    “They’ll know we are Christians by our love…”

  7. owen says:

    the spirit speaks through you here brother. i miss our discussions. God bless.

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