Thursday, August 19, 2010

Mosque in Manhattan: If They Build It Will He Come?

There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia.
Newt Gingrich

Peace-seeking Muslims, pls understand, Ground Zero mosque is UNNECESSARY provocation; it stabs hearts. Pls reject it in interest of healing.
Sarah Palin, Twitter

Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11, and that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans. We would betray our values and play into our enemies' hands if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists, and we should not stand for that.
Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City

We posted our thoughts on Manhattan Mosque Mania 3 months ago, long before the Media spilled over into an election year volcanic frenzy. In actuality, it is neither a mosque nor is its proposed construction actually at Ground Zero. The Park51/Cordoba House project is a 13-story, $100 million community center that will be built on the premises of a former Burlington Coat Factory, 2 blocks from the murderous destruction of 9/11. It will have a privately run mosque open to the public in addition to a 500-seat auditorium, theater, performing arts center, fitness center, swimming pool, basketball court, childcare area, bookstore, culinary school, food court serving halal dishes, and Islamic prayer space for 1,000–2,000 Muslims. The Time Magazine public opinion poll released today posited that 61% of Americans oppose it, while only 28% support it. We've heard these poll numbers consistently throughout the summer, but the Time poll reveals even more:

Twenty-eight percent of voters do not believe Muslims should be eligible to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. Nearly one-third of the country thinks adherents of Islam should be barred from running for President — a slightly higher percentage than the 24% who mistakenly believe the current occupant of the Oval Office is himself a Muslim...And while more Americans are open to the idea of having a mosque built in their neighborhood rather than near Ground Zero, it's still not an overwhelming majority; 55% of respondents say they would favor the construction of an Islamic community center and mosque two blocks from their home, and an equal number say they believe most Muslims are "patriotic Americans."

As many political leaders react to this "debate" by waffling, fear-mongering, parsing or hiding, we believe that American followers of Jesus should courageously speak out on behalf of our Muslim brothers and sisters who are planning the construction of the Park51/Cordoba House project in Manhattan, as well as those who are looking for the opportunity to build mosques to worship freely all over the US (this is not only happening at the "hallowed space" of Ground Zero as Yahoo has reported here).

First, any proclamation that Islam-at-large is a more violent religion than Christianity-at-large is at odds with the historical facts on the ground. Crusades, wars, slavery, the subjugation of women and minorities, ethnic cleansing & genocide, as well as the rape of the earth, have all been waged at one time or another in the name of Christ while quoting the Bible for justification. To say that Islam is inherently evil and violent by citing specific examples of individuals, communities and whole societies who conduct these atrocities in the name of Allah parallels the secular humanist or atheist claims that Christians are inherently anti-Semitic because Martin Luther, Christian Nazi Germany and Billy Graham had some horrific things to say about Jews...not to mention that apparently abrasive perspective towards "the Jews" in The Gospel of John that Christians over the centuries have (mis)interpreted to justify their own hatred and persecution of Jews. We must be devoted to a more contextual analysis of all religious and non-religious communities.

Second, building on this previous point, the atrocities of 9/11 were not committed by Muslims, but by a particular sect (cult) who claims the label "Muslim" by (mis)interpreting verses from the Koran to support their own violent cause. This group, al Qaeda, and their affliates, have been loudly condemned by Muslims all over the US and the world. These Muslims join some Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist and others) communities all over the world who are committed to the cause of justice by nonviolent means (those who Martin Luther King identified as "people of conscience"). In other words, they are committed to using imagination, not force. Those of us who call ourselves "Christian" and are committed to peace, justice, mercy and humble service (no matter what), while living in an organized democracy whose population is 75% "Christian," should be adamantly vocal in supporting any Muslim community committed to social uplift, let alone a non-profit organization in our largest and most diverse city plagued with poverty, homelessness, crime and joblessness.

Third, is there any doubt that this issue, which has dragged its feet through the summer, has been resurrected in the past week by conservative pundits who drool over the electoral implications for the GOP in November (anti-Muslim blogger Pamela Geller has been credited with initially sparking this "controversy")? When Republican Senator John Cornyn calls Obama "out of touch with the American people" after the President supported the right of the Park51/Cordoba House project to build in Manhattan, he is appealing to the majority of American voters who emotionally equate the 9/11 murders with violence rooted in the Koran. The prioritization of this (non)issue is yet another in a series of emotionally driven issues that win elections year after year for the GOP: terrorism, illegal immigration, gay marriage and Jeremiah Wright are all recent examples of issues that use fear and manipulation to drive voters to the polls on election day. Meanwhile, real issues--from an exploding debt to joblessness to unjust wars to home foreclosures--are plaguing millions of Americans and global citizens. Political leaders should be committed to actually solving these major problems instead of squabbling over the obvious Constitutional right that Muslims have to build a community center with the intent to bring healing to the city and country.

Lastly, let us consider the work of Wake Forest's professor of religion Charles Kimball, an ordained Baptist minister, who published When Religion Becomes Evil a year after 9/11. He helpfully identifies 5 marks of religion-gone-bad:

1. Absolute Truth Claims
2. Blind Obedience
3. The Establishment of the Ideal Time
4. The End Justifies the Means
5. Declaring Holy War

These five present a well-researched and well-articulated litmus test for the kind of "religion" that is acceptable in a freedom-infused democracy after 9/11. Some Christians I know are rooted in a faith completely committed to #1. They passionately quote their "inerrant Bible" while denouncing anyone who disagrees as either "sinful" or "satanic." And, by the way, Kimball is not a relativist, but instead, forms his own critically informed convictions with the rare combination of utter seriousness and humility (see the work on convictions by writing partners Christian theologian James McClendon and atheist James Smith). When we take these five marks of harmful religion seriously, we should be far more concerned about the faith of Sarah Palin (whose uber-conservative Assemblies of God faith, no doubt, led her to call the Iraq War "God-ordained" and prioritized the topic of "the End Times" during her short conversation with Billy Graham last fall) than anything envisioned by the Park51/Cordoba House project.

Kimball's conclusion calls for an inclusive faith rooted in tradition that embraces "peacemaking rather than war, reconcilation rather than retaliation." The Park51/Cordoba House project and every other faith community in the United States should be filtered through this kind of critical analysis. So far, this particular Muslim organization passes the test. Until we find real evidence to the contrary, we should not only let them build, but also embrace their project with open arms.

-Theological Autopilot

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this!

    2 things to add:

    1. It's interesting that folk seem to be comfortable with moving the "mosque" further away from the "hallowed ground." This reminds me so much of OT purification laws. "Get them outside the city. Get them away from the tabernacle. They can be here, just not that close." This is precisely what the Incarnation dissolves. The veil is torn. Come all ye polluted into our midst! I can't believe that a large majority of "Christians" support this blatant ancient form of apartheid!!!

    2. In our day, when the there is a minority community that is continually shunned and excluded, shouldn't it be the responsibility of the majority to humble itself in order to ease the transition of the former into the midst of the larger community? So many conservatives are claiming this is an insensitive move by the muslim community. Rather, what is really occurring is that the "ruling class" is using its ideological biases to continue its stranglehold on its power. And that is frightening for those who hope for the liberation of humankind...