A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
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I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

If a Mosque Were Coming to My Neighborhood...

I have yet to comment on the "Ground Zero" mosque controversy since much has already been written and spoken on the subject. So, here it goes.

What I want to do is to get at this issue a little differently by asking myself what I would do as a pastor in the community in which I lived, if a Muslim congregation wanted to build a mosque in our town, and subsequently ran into some fierce opposition to it.

The first thing I think I would do is call the Imam and offer to host a meeting of all the clergy in town who want to participate-- priests, pastors, rabbis, and yes, the Imam. The matter would be too important simply to leave in the hands of the politicians. One's position on the mosque would be irrelevant, but I would want to have a respectful dialogue where religious leaders in the community could share their concerns whether they were for or against the mosque. Would it be possible for us to come to some kind of consensus? I don't know, but the discussion should be had. It would be more constructive than holding picket signs while one side screams at the other.
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My second step would be to host a meeting for the Christian clergy alone for an in-house discussion. The major focus of the meeting would be on how the Gospel of Jesus Christ comes to bear on this issue. In other words, if Jesus were in the room with us, what would he say to his priests and pastors who lead the church?
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Third, I would want the community to know that the clergy are attempting to deal with the situation in a way that brings healing and restoration. We do not have to agree with each other's religion to work together. I stand in the broader evangelical tradition. I am not one of those persons who believes that all religions present a pathway toward the divine. I think there are many things about the theology and practice of Islam that are simply wrong, but I do not see how that should prevent me from working with another clergy person from another faith for the good of the community in which we live. I've never understood the mindset of those who believe otherwise.

Fourth, I would ask those who oppose the mosque (and especially in my own church) what the implications would be for all religious communities if the government started telling the faithful of any religion where a congregation can and cannot build a building. It's a mosque today... but it may be a synagogue or a church tomorrow. I think it's always an interesting method of reasoning to put the shoe on the other foot, and ask how I would feel.

Fifth, at the same time I would ask those Christians who support the building of the mosque to consider the serious concerns of those who might have experienced great emotional pain on account of an event that has changed their lives forever at the hands of a group of extremists who distorted the Christian religion. I'm not talking about giving consideration to the bigots here. I'm speaking of sensitivity to people who feel that a group of individuals who claimed to embrace my Christian faith in extreme and distorted form murdered their relatives. I may insist that their terrorism was not Christian, but I must not ignore the fact that the perpetrators laid claim to my religion. I am not asking for anyone to change their position. I am just asking for a little understanding for those whose lives were truly changed. Even though we could build a church on the site, would we be so quick to push if the very act itself was now getting in the way of reconciliation? Again, I am just asking that we look at an argument from the other side for the purpose of mutual understanding.

Sixth, I would remind everyone I could that the problem here is not Islam in general. To equate what happened on 9/11 with all of Islam is to misunderstand what really happened and it is to misunderstand Islam. At the same time, those on the other end who want to take Islam completely out of the equation also misinterpret the situation. I have read more than a few individuals claiming the issue is not Islam, but Al Qaeda. Well, that is partly true. The issue is Al Qaeda and other extreme groups who hold to an extreme form of Islam that informs their terrorist activities. It is clearly incorrect to connect terrorism to all of Islam, but to reject that an extreme expression of Islamic faith is not at issue here is to stick one's head into the politically correct sand. Does this make a difference for whether the mosque should be built? I don't believe so. It's just a point of clarification that might bring a little mutual understanding to both sides of the argument.

Seventh, and finally, I would be bound by my faith and my conscience to support the building of the mosque whatever it may cost me personally in the way of reputation. At least, I hope I would do this. No one knows how she or he will respond in a difficult situation, but as a follower of Jesus Christ, I simply cannot come to any other conclusion. I may not be a Muslim and I may not agree with Muslim tenets, but I am having a difficult time imagining Jesus opposing the building of the mosque, not because I think Jesus was a modern progressive. I highly doubt that. I think he would favor it because Jesus came to reconcile all things to himself; and Christians fighting with their Muslim neighbors is hardly an effective approach to reconciliation.

What would Jesus do? Surely what he would do would be different from what we are witnessing.

14 comments:

Unknown said...

Nicely put. Thanks.

I also see that as a community comes together and puts faces and names with the people who would be inside the mosque worshiping, it is harder to be as judgmental. Some still will, but when people realize that it is there neighbors they work with, shop with, and see everyday...it isn't as scary.

cr said...

This isn't a typical mosque being planned for Anytown USA -- your opening premise. This is a very large mosque & Islamic center proposed next to a very sensitive, emotional site for Americans. It's not unreasonable to ask the mosque planners to move the proposed site farther from GZ. (It's also not likely to happen).

At the end you say as a follower of Jesus Christ you must come to this conclusion. Does that mean you believe there is only one authentic Christian position on this issue, i.e., yours? I ask because this is unusual on your blog.

whisper said...

Dear Allan
Much grateful for your view which is expressed beautifully. I applaud that you included 'what you would actually do' in the end. Some people who summarise the dilemma, are unwilling to commit their personal views. (not a criticism just observational point)

I have been in a situation where a Hindu temple is being built in the neighbourhood and had all these debates run back and forth in my mind (although Hindus have not been SO closely associated with extremism)
My conclusion was much the same but I had not had a chance to discuss it with anyone - only prayed about it and it has been answered.
Thank you

Allan R. Bevere said...

CR:

Thanks for your thoughts.

As a follower of Jesus Christ, yes, I must come to this conclusion because I am having trouble comprehending that the Jesus I know in the Gospels would oppose the mosque's construction. I know other Christians will come to a different conclusion, but what I want for them to demonstrate is a Christological rationale to support their opposition.

I realize that this is not just any mosque, but I did address that issue in my post. What I was attempting to do was to ask how I as a pastor would respond to a similar situation in a way that would honor the gospel. Moreover, part of the backdrop of this discussion is that the kind of scene being played out in Manhattan is also being played out elsewhere in our country. No doubt, not all who are against the mosque at Ground Zero would protest other mosques, but there is this element of folks who want no mosques anywhere.

Christians must speak to the contrary.

Robert Cornwall said...

Alan,

As you likely know, I've been posting up a storm on this. But you have stated this well.

As for the issue of this mosque -- if that was all it was -- sensitivity -- that would be one thing, but all across the country there are groups opposing mosques in their community, and the argument is that Muslims are terrorists and hate Christians and Jews.

Well, tell that to my Muslim friends who hosted us for an Iftar dinner that they hate Christians. Oh, and lots of Muslims think that it would be best to move the mosque elsewhere, so there is no monolithic perspective!

Allan R. Bevere said...

Bob,

Yes, I have been reading your posts. I much appreciate your insight.

Chuck Tackett said...

Allan, excellent post. Thank you. I tend to agree with you but I will offer this perspective as one possibility for why Jesus might not be as considerate as you suggest. This won't be as elegant as your post but here goes.

Jesus didn't come and simply try to be friendly with everyone, hoping that in being "nice" and considerate of their circumstance they would have a change in heart.

Many of the lessons and comforts Jesus offered ended with some form of the phrase "go and sin no more." So the question would be whether Jesus would view the building of a mosque as being consistent with the imperative of repentance.

How do you think Jesus views the practice of Islam. Does he believe that it leads to Him or is it idolatry?

"I am the way the truth and the light. No one comes to the Father except through Me." How does Jesus intend us to interpret that verse from John?

Allan R. Bevere said...

Hi, Chuck,

Here are my thoughts:

First, yes, Jesus obviously stirred up controversy. No one running around just trying to be nice gets strung up on a cross, but that is not the point.

Consistently Jesus was critical of those on the inside, that is the people of God. He is not with those on the outside. In other words, Jesus goes after the Pharisees because they are keepers of the covenant and should know better. He is actually kind and understanding to the pagans because they don't know any better.

So, while Jesus would have viewed the Romans as idolaters, that did not manifest itself in anger and criticism. Instead Jesus acts toward them in the way he wishes his own people would act. Jesus was continually reminding Israel, the people of God, that they cannot fulfill their calling of being a light to the nations, if they are always wanting to beat the nations over the head.

The problem in the church today is that we operate completely opposite of Jesus. We are toughest on those outside the faith and less critical of those inside who should know better. And when we are critical in-house, it is usually to criticize other Christian groups with which we do not identify (liberals criticize conservatives and vice versa).

The fact that Jesus is decisively the only way does not mean that I therefore have to get into a brawl with Muslims. I do not follow the logic here.

Dan Smitley said...

I enjoy your approach and have a feeling Jesus' would be similar. For some reason I have this hunch that Jesus would speak to the heart of those against and for the building.

"you are against it because you are controlled by fear of the unknown"

"you are supporting it because you want to be viewed as open minded but you have no room in your heart for conservative Christians".

It is difficulty to encounter Christ and not see your brokeness.

-Dan

Kevin Baker said...

Enjoyed your post Allan. I especially like your "inside" and "outside" conversations in terms of the church.

Perhaps one biblical analogy might be Jesus' treatment/response to the Samaritans - an Abrahamic religion closely related to Judaism... (albeit a much closer relation than Islam is to Christianity) - though the analogy feels closer when one looks at the way Jews reviled and shunned them.

Jesus encounter with the Samaritan woman and her village was certainly not "sensitive" to the perspective/feelings of his own disciples and fellow Jews.

The other thing that brings Samaritans to mind was the popular sentiment towards them - many thought they were both idolaters (religiously speaking) and traitors (ethnically and nationally).

Allan R. Bevere said...

Kevin,

An excellent and very helpful analogy. Thanks!

cr said...

Jesus calls people to do two things – put their faith in him, and live a life of love. These two things are the heart of what he expects of all people, and I must keep both in mind as I approach the controversial Ground Zero Mosque issue.

His first requirement raises difficulties for inter-religious issues. Would Jesus want me to support a place of worship that does not center on faith in Him as Savior and Lord, that indeed inhibits faith in Him? I don’t know. I don’t have an answer here. But if the Gospels are true, and Jesus is who He says He is, then Muhammad was a false prophet – as venerable as Islam is after so many centuries. I doubt that Jesus would want me to lose sight of this, and it often gets obscured or ignored, particularly by the Christian Left in their eagerness to be tolerant and open-minded.

But it is the second requirement of Jesus that more directly applies to the mosque issue. Does living a life of love require me to support my Muslim neighbor in his desire to build a mosque? This is when I remember that I am a citizen as well as a Christian. Citizenship in America includes an affirmation of freedom of religion for all people and all religions. So yes, in ordinary circumstances, as a citizen, I am called to support my Muslim neighbor and his desire for a mosque. I understand that. But I think there are exceptions in circumstances that are not ordinary, and this is one of them. Here I must also consider love for other neighbors who find such a large mosque next to such a sensitive site to be deeply troubling. Love for these other neighbors requires that I take their objections seriously, to weigh them carefully and not dismiss or disparage them as the Christian Left does. If I find their objections reasonable, as I do, then I must factor them into the love equation.

It is the need to balance these different loves that causes me to look for a compromise on the GZM issue – such as building the mosque on another site farther from Ground Zero, as even some Muslims have suggested. This is the compromise that makes for peace, and Jesus said peacemakers are blessed.

Kevin Baker said...

CR,

I appreciate your reasoned and thoughtful response, and appreciate the theological issues you are wrestling with.

On your first point, I would suggest that faithful Christians might not want to oppose this mosque for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with being "left, tolerant, or open-minded." I am not sure I would call my position "support" for it either, because I am primarily concerned about Christians presenting a divided and anti-Christian witness and participating (however well intentioned)in deceit. Is the mosque truly a challenge to my faith in Jesus Christ? I am not so persuaded.

Might virulent Christian opposition to it hinder non-Christians (and even Muslims) from coming to a saving faith in Jesus Christ because of how they see professing believers behave towards others? I think it would be hard to argue otherwise.

Was Muhammad a false prophet according to biblical standards? Debatable. Not because I want to argue for some type of pluralism or equality of religious perspective and belief (far from it) - but because most NT examples of false prophecy had much more to do with internal Christian heresies rather than other religions or faiths (i.e. gnosticism, etc.)

So what did I mean by participating in deceit? This goes more to the second part of your response. To answer your question about whether Christians should take seriously the objections of our neighbors - I would answer yes. But what if that opposition (though much of it comes from shared pain and suffering from a horrible tragedy) were too closely aligned with deceit and insensitivity to some victims and their families of 9/11 in favor of other victims? How might we (Christians) perpetuate falsehood and suffering by ignoring the 58 law-abiding Muslims who died in 9/11 and their grieving families? Should we distinguish victim from victim and create a "sensitivity" hierarchy of concern? Or should we carefully and lovingly weep with all the victims and try to gently clarify falsehoods while trying to be sensitive to all who have suffered? (some of the extreme falsehoods like all Muslims are terrorists or Mosques are terrorist training grounds, etc).

Should Muslim leaders continue to advocate for the mosque in light of all this? I am not sure, but I think that is an internal decision for Muslims to make. As an outsider I can see both sides - to move it seems to capitulate to the perception that Islam=terror. To continue forward with the project might led to the same.

Either way, mosques all over the nation are experiencing similar opposition - maybe because of this controversy and maybe regardless of it - and either way, I believe Christians have an obligation to respond not with political correctness, but with cross-bearing love and truth.

Lynn said...

I enjoyed your post; it presents your opinions clearly and without name calling. Thanks! I live in NY and I find it annoying that so many people present this issue as a "not in my backyard" issue. For many of us, it is not. I am against this mosque at this location due to the insensitivity shown in the location. The builders have rejected offers to meet to find a suitable location nearby. I googled Islamic centers in my neighborhood and found that the closest one is 2.1 miles from my house. The nearest UMC, in contrast is 1.9 miles, and the UMC that I attend is 4.2 miles. I have nothing against Islamic centers being built, I just want this one moved. The Greek Orthodox church that was destroyed when one of the towers fell has not been able to get permission to rebuild yet. Their original site was close to where the freedom tower will be; they are willing to move, due to sensitivity issues as to the location, so why is this center different?
Thanks for a place to post a comment without the fear of name calling, etc.!