I’ve been trying to sit out the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy. This is one of those toxic issues sure to contaminate anyone who touches it.
Nonetheless, in light of the invective and hatred that has been unleashed during this controversy — rising to the level of “International Burn a Koran Day” — I don’t think silence is golden. I think it is moral cowardice. So in the interest of being an equal-opportunity offender, let me suggest a Bible passage for each side of this controversy to ponder.
To the imam and his supporters, both Muslim and Christian, who believe building a Muslim center near Ground Zero is an effective way to combat American stereotyping of Muslims as terrorists, I would commend the truth of Romans 14. In this passage, as in I Corinthians 8 and Galatians 5:13-14, Paul argues that being free to do something does not mean that is the wise or loving thing to do. Sometimes in the service of understanding and love, one’s freedom must be reined in. So yes, in this great country where freedom of religion is a birthright, you are free — within the bounds of local zoning and building codes — to plant your Islamic center wherever you like. But as a Christian pastor who is deeply grieved at the hatred being hurled your way, I would encourage you not to do so. Recognize that the noble intention of building bridges of understanding is not being served by building your center near such an emotionally charged site. Insisting on your rights in this matter will only further alienate and inflame the very people you say you want to reach.
And to those Americans who insist on painting all Muslims with the same brush — as godless extremists intent on destroying our nation — please meditate upon the Parable of the Tares and the Wheat (Matt. 13:24-30). Our Baptist forebears often appealed to this passage in 17th- and 18th- century England and America when they were a religious minority regarded with hostility and suspicion. In this story, Jesus argues that our attempts to eradicate evil (or what we regard as evil) can be more destructive than the evil itself. I see this happening in the ugly slurs about Muslims (all Muslims, even those who are loyal Americans) that keep landing in my inbox and sounding on the airwaves. Since many of those spewing this hatred profess to be Christians, their antics besmirch the name and cause of Christ. I don’t believe the Lord who rebuked his disciples for wanting to rain fire on a village of nonbelievers (Luke 9:52-55) is pleased when his followers indiscriminately attack and vilify their “enemies.”
I understand why so many Americans are violently opposed to an Islamic center being built near Ground Zero and in time, I hope those wanting to build that Islamic center will fathom and respect that sentiment.
But in the meantime, despising and attacking our Muslim neighbors is not something real Christians are free to do.