Let's pray that the human race never escapes from Earth to spread its iniquity elsewhere. C. S. Lewis
Unless you have been living under a rock, you have heard the controversy about a mosque that is going to be built in close proximity to Ground Zero. A brief background is in order. From Wikipedia we learn:
“Park51, originally named Cordoba House and sometimes controversially referred to as the "Ground Zero mosque", is a planned $100 million, 13-story, glass and steel Islamic community center and mosque. Plans are for the facility to include 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. It would replace an existing 1850s Italianate building that was damaged in the September 11 attacks, and is located two blocks (about 600 feet, or 180 meters) from the World Trade Center site in Manhattan, New York City.
Though the building is privately owned, has no affiliation with local or state government, and is currently used for Muslim worship, the proposed location of the project triggered an intense nationwide controversy.”
(As an aside to our North Carolina readers, the building used to be leased to the Burlington Coat Factory).
“Feisal Abdul Rauf, a Kuwait-born Muslim Sufi of Egyptian descent, is the chief proponent of the project. Some U.S. politicians and others voiced concerns about his views. Nineteen days after the attacks, he told CBS's 60 Minutes that fanaticism and terrorism have no place in Islam. When asked if the U.S. deserved to be attacked, Rauf answered, "I wouldn't say that the United States deserved what happened, but the United States' policies were an accessory to the crime that happened."
“Some claim that Rauf "has a record of support for causes that were sympathetic with terrorism". In June 2010, when asked in an interview whether he agreed with the U.S. State Department's assessment of Hamas as a terrorist organization, Rauf said: "I'm not a politician. The issue of terrorism is a very complex question." Adding "I am a peace builder. I will not allow anybody to put me in a position where I am seen by any party in the world as an adversary or as an enemy.”
A couple of other points to consider are this. There are already four mosques within close proximity to this planned mosque. The Islamic Center has been offered land nearby. Also, according to some sources, it is a tradition for Muslims to erect mosques at the site of successful conquests and this history certainly raises the hackles and opens old wounds for those who lost loved ones on 9/11.
Most Americans believe that the Islamic Center has a legal right to build their complex at that site. But the vast majority of Americans believe that the Islamic Center should not build because the site has profound significance as the final resting site for many of the victims of 9/11. They were killed by those espousing radical Islamic beliefs. On several news programs today I heard statistics of American opposition to the mosque that ranged from 70-85%. There is also a concerted effort being made amongst union labor to refuse to work on the site. Apparently union labor must be used in renovations.
There is another incident that gives a depth of insight of a measured response in a similar situation. The Carmelite nuns built a convent and erected crosses next to the infamous Auschwitz Concentration camp. I visited Auschwitz as a teenager and became physically ill as I stood in the gas chambers where so many Jews had lost their lives. The Pope ordered the nuns to vacate the convent to show sensitivity to those Jews who were offended by the presence of the convent on what Jews considered hallowed ground. Here is a link to the story.
The Muslims may be free to build their site but is it wise to exercise that option? Does Raulf believe that this is the best way to win friends for the Muslim faith? I heard a compelling argument for showing sensitivity after 9/11. There was an incident on a plane when passengers became concerned about the presence and actions of some Muslim clerics. The passengers refused to fly with them and it was decided to remove the men and place them on another plane. Obviously the clerics were angry and decided to sue.
But, one person made the observation that the clerics could have turned this incident in their favor. She suggested that the moment the clerics realized there was an issue that they should have stood up and asked to address the passengers. They could have said the following. “We understand that you are upset and mistrustful. The United States has undergone a terrible tragedy. In the interest of goodwill and solidarity, we will leave the plane so that you may fly in peace.”
What do you suppose the reaction on the plane would have been? My guess is the passengers would would have felt both relief along with a little guilt. They most likely would have asked the men to stay and a new bond would have been formed. Sometimes the best way to create goodwill is not to demand one’s rights. If Rauf really wants to show goodwill to his fellow citizens, he might find widespread goodwill if he accepted the offer to build elsewhere.
However, such a response is not likely to be forthcoming. Unfortunately, this situation is escalating and I am sure that New Yorkers are concerned that the protests may get out of hand.
Moving all the way down the eastern seaboard we end up at the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida. From the Huffington Post we learn the following.
“Members of a church in Gainesville, Florida are planning to commemorate the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 by burning Korans. The "International Burn A Quran Day," is just the latest in anti-Islamic protests that the Dove World Outreach Center holds each year on 9/11.
"The goal of these and other protests are to give Muslims an opportunity to convert," said the church's pastor, Terry Jones.The church stirred up controversy last year when in July, they put out signs that read "Islam Is Of The Devil," which is also the title of the pastor's book.
"We are definitely trying to send the message that Jesus Christ is the only way, said Jones.
Do these self avowed Christians have the right to burn the Quran? In terms of the legal code, I guess they do. But, their stated intent is to let Muslims know that Jesus is the only way. Do they think their message will be heard?
Paul found himself in a culture where there were many altars filled with pagan idols. Lets look in on an incident in Athens found in Acts 17:16-23 (NIV)
16While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, "What is this babbler trying to say?" Others remarked, "He seems to be advocating foreign gods." They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 19Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, "May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean." 21(All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)
22Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.
Paul did not burn or trash the idols. Instead, because he had studied the various philosophies of the day, he was able to give a reasoned defense of the faith with respect and charity towards the unbelievers.
What was the outcome of this discourse? In verse 32 (ESV) we learn “ 32When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, "We want to hear you again on this subject." 33At that, Paul left the Council. 34A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.”
Some came to a belief in Jesus. Others merely sneered. Yet Paul conducted himself with dignity towards all. Paul was a learned man and had spent much time in study. So many Christians want to take the easy way out. It is far easier to burn some books than to study what is in that book and learn to give a reasoned apologetic of the faith.
Pete Briscoe once commented that we have not done a particularly great job of evangelizing the world. He said that he believed that God brings people of all backgrounds to the United States to make it easy for us to reach those who do not know Christ.
But this demands some work on our part. We need to read and study the belief systems of others and then learn how to more effectively witness to them. That also means we have to know our Bible inside and out.
Far too many Christians sit back and show very little concern for the unsaved world around them. Sometimes it is just too hard to study and learn and for some, deep down inside, they really don’t care that much. It is far easier to go to a rally, wave a flag, say a few prayers and go home. It is even easier to burn a couple of Qurans and sit back with a smug attitude that “We sure showed them, didn’t we?”
In many respects we are no different than the folks behind the mosque at Ground Zero. We know our rights and we exercise them. But, as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:23 All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.
Both the Dove Outreach Center and the Islamic Outreach Center in NYC are guilty of self-centered egotism. Both could benefit by a healthy dose of humility and lovingkindness. However, I am not optimistic that either group will see beyond their “rights.”