Once again I’m embarrassed to be a Christian in the United States. We are known by the company we keep. The public outcry and political maneuvering focused on Park 51 is short-sighted and smacks of manipulation. Christians have been found to be part of this public outcry. It is at times like these that I wonder if people even attempt to think through issues.
A group has plans to build an Islamic Center at 51 Park Avenue, in New York City. It is reported to be just 2 blocks from “Ground Zero” where the World Trade Center once stood. Some call that insensitive. Some want the “hallowed ground” of “Ground Zero” to be respected. Polls of public sentiment indicate some 61% of those polled object to the establishment of the Islamic Center there. President Obama, who has voiced affirmation of the right of the group to construct the Islamic Center, is increasingly believed to be Muslim. (Slow head shake goes here.)
Plenty of others have weighed in recently attempting to infuse the public conversation with facts. Two other mosques already are located within a dozen blocks of the World Trade Center site. A room in the Pentagon close to the site where the plane crashed on 9/11 has been set aside as an interfaith chapel and is used by Muslims for prayer on a regular basis. If we call ground “2 blocks away” (and even that designation is questionable) “hallowed”, then why not an outcry against some of the other businesses in the area? Strip clubs, sex shops, and “Gentleman’s Clubs” are there. President Obama is Christian. Islam has been in this country for a very long time, mosques being built beginning 95 years ago. There are 2 million active Muslims in the United States today, and their numbers are growing.
Those facts don’t matter to many.
There is concern expressed by Newt Gingrich that it is “…radical Islamists who want to triumphally prove that they can build a mosque right next to a place where 3,000 Americans were killed by radical Islamists…”. It is that kind of rhetoric that stirs up this debate, making it an emotional issue, far from the facts of the situation.
I have a few observations.
- If this Islamic Center is blocked, it has negative implications for the zoning and construction of any religious structure, including Christian churches. Maybe community leaders don’t want the “negative influence” of Christianity on commerce, schools, or neighborhoods? Preposterous? No. Christian congregations have been blocked from construction in neighborhoods because of traffic concerns, concerns about noise, concerns about feeding and housing the hungry and homeless, and any number of other concerns. Most of the objection to the Islamic Center in NYC is to the “assumed message and intent”. Facts don’t matter.
- Even if the intent of the construction of the Islamic Center is to “rub our noses in Islam’s growing influence”, don’t we decide what it means to us? The congregation I serve views itself as a dynamic, growing, and faithful congregation. Some outside the congregation see it as a heretical club leading people away from faith. We decide what something means for us.
- Do we seriously believe that the construction of an Islamic Center, even if it were to be built by radical fundamentalist Muslims would change the nature of “Ground Zero”? Does denunciation of the reality of the Holocaust really change many minds about its historicity?
- Republicans running for office or in the national spotlight are most frequently seen as making this Islamic center an issue. This is the political party that presents itself as for “smaller government” and fewer government restrictions on businesses. Are they really advocating denying the permits for this Islamic Center?
There is so much more.
Take a breath.
Listen to what is being said.