Monday, August 16, 2010

The Muslims and Ground Zero

The latest brouhaha--and it looks like there is a new flavor every day--is about: Should the Muslims build a community center two blocks from Ground Zero? Of course the Republicans led by self-imposed spokesperson, Newt Gingrich has played the Nazi card. We’ve heard this convoluted thinking before. Would we allow the Nazis to build some sort of monument near the Holocaust Museum? Mr. Gingrich the Nazis were not a religious group and the Muslim community Center would fall under the umbrella of a religious institution.

Everyone running for office this fall has gotten on the bandwagon. Putting their ear to the ground the politicos know an explosive issue when one comes down the pike. Even Harry Reid is running scared.

What must not be lost under all the media uproar is the essential Constitutional idea that we really do believe in the separation of Church and State. Early Baptists, once upon a time before we got rich and established--died for this principle. Leaving England for religious freedom in the new world they discovered to their dismay the painful truth that a group was already here and proclaiming we had an established church. Baptists, stubborn as they were did not take that long, painful circuitous trip across the sea just to find in the new land what they had painfully experienced in the old land. They wanted to worship as they chose. They wanted to decide who they called to preach. They wanted to believe what they wished. The dark pages of history in New England and Virginia tell of all the Baptist preachers incarcerated because they were foolish enough to think they could preach as they chose. It was a mighty struggle--but they helped stitch into the Bill of Rights the incredible idea of religious freedom for everybody. Later, Roger Williams founded the free state of Rhode Island where people were free to believe or not believe--and that was their right.

This argument today goes like this: “Well, we do believe in religious freedom for everybody except…” and I will let you fill in the blanks. Richard Land, conscience of the Southern Baptists has said under no circumstances should Muslims be allowed to build a community center that near to ground zero.

In the heat of the moment we must not forget a principle. All religious groups are protected by the Constitution--even those we do not like. Even that pathetic family-church in Topeka that spews their anti-gay poison at funerals for our fallen--even they are protected. Though I do wish they would shut their mouths. Hardly a week goes back that some media group does not give them the forum to air their poison. And even they have the right to hate, unfortunately.

Back to the Muslims. The argument confuses the Muslim faith with terrorists. They are not one in the same. President Bush shortly after 9/11 reminded us that we must not hate all Muslims because of the lunatic fringe in their faith. That was one of his finest hours. Every religious group has such fanatics as do the Muslims. This is not who is trying to build a community center. Every fair commentator has said these are responsible people.

Are we going to send a message to the Muslims around the world that we do believe in religious freedom with qualifications? If we qualify our principles-who will be next--the Metropolitan Community Church--or a multitude of others that many might disagree with. Old time Baptists stood for the religious freedom for everyone and that principle still stands.

There have been times in our painful history when we have forgotten our principles. We were wary of electing John Kennedy President because he was a Catholic. Some were afraid of George Romney because he was a Mormon. Maybe the whole issue here boils down to fear. We are just afraid.

I hope when the dust settles we will stand by our principles. The Mayor of New York--and he is a Jew--has come out courageously for all his citizenry. We are told he remembers the discrimination his family faced in trying to buy a house in a neighborhood where no Jews were allowed.

I hope our Muslim friends get to build that center. It would be a beacon of freedom that says in this country all really does mean all--no qualifications allowed. The Sunday after 9/11 a Church usher told me there was a man in the back that wanted to talk to me. That dark-skinned man said, ”I just wanted you to know that most of Muslims are not like those that blew up those towers. I just hope that you Christians don’t hate us and think we are going to hell.” I told him then--and I believe now--that I knew most Muslims were not like that. And--I did not believe that we Christians really hated him and his people. The Christian God, I said, loves everybody. That was almost ten years ago--and I still believe what I told him that day.

Want to read a further word from a Baptists ethicist? I like what he said. Read Robert Parham's words from the Washington Post.

Amy Goodman's splendid article on today's Truthdig, "Mosque-MississippiBurning",  puts a human face on this whole issue. I recommend:

1 comment:

  1. Roger, I agree that religious freedom means religious freedom for all. I support the community center as I understand it. But I would also oppose building uses which are fundamentally opposed to peace and order. If the KKK wanted to establish a center for gathering and needed public approval (of permits, etc), I would oppose them not on any religious grounds, but due to their avowed terrorism. Whether Nazi, Muslim, or Baptist (Westboro), terrorism which cloaks itself behind a veil of religion should be opposed by peacable people of all faiths.