According to a recent CNN poll, two-thirds of Americans oppose the proposed 13-story Muslim cultural complex two blocks from the site of the fallen World Trade Center (WTC). The cultural center, which includes space devoted to prayer and religious purposes, is most commonly referred to as a “mosque” and—more heatedly—as a show of provocative aggression toward the families of 9/11 victims killed by Muslim extremists.
From television spots to ad-space rented on New York City buses, opponents of the mosque are squaring off with its supporters in New York and on television and radio waves across the country.
Among the voices weighing in are those of the Christian faith community, including myself. I’ve been drawn into dialogue due to my recently released book, Picking Dandelions: A Search for Eden Among Life’s Weeds, which includes one of the only widely-published civilian accounts of the disaster relief efforts following 9/11.
As a 23-year-old save-the-world idealist watching the news unfold—from one plane, to two to three—the gravity of the situation grew inside me, until my heart was beating out of my chest with a desire to help. In the hours that followed, my husband (then fiance) and I recruited 45 professionals based out of Westwinds Community Church in Jackson, Michigan. In one of the most surreal moments of my life, we got on a bus and headed to New York City in the middle of one of the most explosive losses of life in our nation’s history.
Our team was deployed to sort through the outpouring of donations from around the country and support rescue personnel as they dug through the rubble. Being stationed near the makeshift morgue for the New York Police Department felt like being on the set of a disaster movie, except that it was all sickeningly real. The tower lay demolished before us, lives had been lost and more lives hung in the balance, and various officials—from Military Police to FEMA to the Fire Department—scrambled around the scene. One of the darkest parts of the experience was witnessing the trauma to victims’ families. Over the course of days, I helplessly watched their heartbreaking transformation, moving from hope to solemn grief.
Now, with all the complexities of the proposed Islamic cultural center and all the emotional memories of these 9/11 experiences, talk shows hosts are asking me the same question that other Christians around the country are being asked:
How do you, as a follower of Jesus, respond?
My answer is no less complex than the question.
• Purposefully suspending judgment. Because of freedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights and because of the values of my faith, I am using this opportunity to learn. I have tried to give a valid hearing to perspectives on both sides of the issue. However, I have purposefully tried not to let anyone, in a moment of hype, back me into offering a premature or speculative accusation toward the Muslims involved. I believe that between our federal government’s agencies, watchdog organizations, and a nation of thirsty reporters, clearer information will become available in the coming days. If these are peaceable Muslims as they assert, then our approach could be to acknowledge their rights and implore them to proceed with the utmost sensitivity. If, as possibilities allow, some sort of credible evidence surfaces tying the cultural center to harmful intentions for the United States, then our government would of course proceed with criminal investigations and trials. Prematurely making extreme statements makes good media, but it strikes me as dangerous and imbalanced.
• Advocating sensitivity. Just because we live in a generously free country doesn’t mean that we should always exercise every freedom at every opportunity. In light of the escalating tension around the country, it might be wise for the peaceable Muslim community to acknowledge that while they have the legal right to build, it is clearly not being received as a beneficial offering. On the same note, and actually to a much greater degree, I’ve called for the reflective response of Christians everywhere. Times of hardship and tension have often been ideal opportunities for demonstrating the truths of our faith. Regardless of our personal political beliefs or the outcome of this scenario, Jesus did not come as a political revolutionary but as one bearing a message of transcendent spiritual truth. Part of his example, although unconventional and unpopular in the wider pop-culture, was a mandate to “love our neighbors,” to “love our enemies,” and to “pray for those who persecute us.” No matter how you view these Muslims, I am certain that at least one of these apply. The Christian faith maintains that God loves and wants relationship with every person on every side of this argument.
• Being loving and gracious. I’ve been encouraging Americans, particularly people of faith, to make a purposeful attempt to pump love and grace into our culture rather than to add to volatile or antagonistic attitudes that could fuel further violence as it escalates. Does this mean I am abandoning my spiritual or moral positions in favor of relativism? Absolutely not. I do not pretend that I see the Muslim faith and Christian faith as compatible and I do not rescind that I believe the best hope for healing in our communities is found solely in the way of Christ. Political correctness aside, I am not ashamed to say this.
[Another opinion: Charles Krauthammer calls the mosque “Sacrilege at Ground Zero” in the Washington Post.]
Does the Imam have ties to Hamas and what is the nature of Hamas? Are the financial backers of this project tied to questionable organizations? Some of the truth, which will either redeem or convict, confirm or correct will be found in time and it will be found by people with greater authority and greater expertise than most average Americans. For me and mine, we will not attempt to wager technical opinions in areas where we are not qualified, but will try instead to reflect the heart of Jesus who did not come to condemn the world but to save it.
Do you support or oppose the mosque being built at Ground Zero? How should the teachings of Jesus and neighbor love shape our response?