After nine years, the 9-11 memorial in New York remains unfinished. Apart from any technical difficulties, there have been many kinds of disagreements, squabbles, even fights over the memorial. All of these differences and disagreements pale in light of the polarization that characterizes this nation today over plans by Muslims to build a Muslim Center (which will contain a Mosque and prayer space for those of other religions).
It is very understandable that some, perhaps very many, of the survivors, their families, and close friends would carry resentment, even hatred, toward the terrorists and by extension Muslims or Islam. All of us are human after all.
The question is, why have so many other Americans become so upset and angry over building the Center; even to the point of willingness to abrogate key portions of the US Constitution?
It seems to me that the “causes” are many and complex. Some of the things that have affected this outpouring of opposition and even hatred include:
- A general frightening feeling that “America,” has or is loosing it’s preeminent status as the “world power.”
- Confusion and frustration over two “wars” that have produced partial military solutions but without viable political solutions even after the deaths of thousands of people and spending millions and millions of dollars prosecuting these “wars.”
- The tremendous US and international economic collapse we are suffering, with loss of jobs, many of which will never return, the inadequacy of healthcare reform, and gridlock resulting in a lack of faith in the recovery and re-attainment of secure jobs.
- The seeming exploitation of the economic “recovery” by politicians and media for their own political gain or increased ratings.
- Woefully inadequate knowledge of the history of the Middle East and even a more abysmal lack of understanding of Islam.
- and perhaps most of all the development and use of extreme “Christian” anti-Islamic attitudes and actions against Islam. Think of “burning Korans” or marches with nasty signs in Murfreesboro, TN.
An Interfaith Response.
On September 7, 2010 representatives of Mainline Protestant (Eg. Methodists and Episcopalians, the Orthodox) Christians, Roman Catholic Christians, Evangelical Christians, Jewish, and Muslim religious leaders met to present a very strong and positive message, calling all religious people witness to their one God of Love, justice, and mercy.
The statement begins with these strong words:
As religious leaders in this great country, we have come together in our nation’s capital to denounce categorically the derision, misinformation and outright bigotry being directed against America’s Muslim community. We bear a sacred responsibility… to promote a culture of mutual respect and the assurance of religious freedom for all… we announce a new era of interfaith cooperation. (Emphasis in original).
The statement continues to make several points:
- There is support for the Constitutional and traditional Freedom of Religion. They claim the right to, “give witness to our own moral convictions in the public square as well as individual, “freedom to worship in congregations of our own choosing.
- That rather than give in to, “the anti-Muslim frenzy that has been generated over the plans to build an Islamic center and mosque… near Ground Zero,” the Interfaith group proposes that we, “…not… debate the the Park 51 project [center and mosque] anew, but rather respond to the atmosphere of fear and contempt for fellow Americans of the Muslim faith that the controversy has generated.
- That as Americans and people of faith, “We stand by the principle that to attack any religion in the United States is to do violence to the religious freedom of all Americans.”
- Realizing that in a globalizing world religious differences must not “…lead to hostility or division between communities… that no religion should be judged on the words or actions of those who seek to pervert it through acts of violence… that bearing false witness against our neighbor – something condemned by all three of our religious traditions – must be counteracted by truly seeking to understand “the Other” and building on our common belief in a God of love, justice and mercy.
- That, “Leaders of local congregations have a special responsibility to teach with accuracy, fairness and respect about other faith traditions” and to discover ways to extend interfaith collaboration into common action through interfaith, “education, inter-congregational visitations, and service programs that redress social ills…”
- That as the diligent work of our scholars has shown, “Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all see an intimate link between faithfulness to God and love of neighbor; a neighbor who in many instances is the stranger in our midst.” It is by beginning at the point we all can agree on –love of God and neighbor- that we can live in harmony in a diverse, global world.
A few observations.
This document was signed by 35 religious leaders (See last 3 pages of the statement) by a goodly number of Jewish and Muslim leaders and Evangelical, Orthodox, Mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic leaders (including Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington, DC; Fr. James Massa representing the USCCB; and Mr. Nicholas Richardson, Communications Director of the Archdiocese of New York).
In light of this charged situation, these leaders spoke as prophets arising out of the best of their traditions.
They made the very wise decision to condemn violence and hatred. They went on to emphasize that the beginning of dialogue and action must arise from what we hold in common –Love of God and neighbor- and not from our differences (only a few of which are very serious and difficult to deal with).
Pope Paul VI, in Evangelii Nuntiandi, asked why do we send out missionaries? His answer effectively said not to “convert” others but to live the joy of the Gospel in such a way that some others would be attracted to the Faith by the action of God in their hearts. We might ask, “Why care about the Muslims? Isn’t our Christian task to proselytize them and convert them to Christianity? I would say, at this moment, we Christians ought to live our Gospel and love our Muslim Neighbor. We can leave the “converting” to God.
These leaders correctly, in my judgment, linked their religious message to the legal and Constitutional rights that Americans possess: the freedom of religion and freedom of speech. I have seen time and again pleas or demands by conservative Evangelical Leaders and the recent popes that their missionaries and religious communities be allowed to live, worship and otherwise practice the Christian faith in other more closed societies (E.g. Saudi Arabia, Iran). But it behooves us to practice what we preach and what we desire from other countries, not only because it is the morally right thing to do, but because it will help Christians who want access to other countries.
Finally, the Leaders who signed this document were, again, wise to emphasize the need for dialogue and action at the level of the local congregation or parish. The bi-lateral and multi-lateral high level dialogues at the national and international level between and among denominations (Catholic, Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, and Southern Baptists [with Catholics terminated by a decision of the SBC], has borne much fruit, although there remain many tensions within and between some groups.
However, “the rubber [really] hits the road,” so to speak, when actual people, people who live in the same or nearby communities, come together face-to-face and begin to listen to and learn from each other; when people of different religious traditions actually interact with each other, come to understand each others’ ways, act together, and, perhaps, come to trust each other, healing may occur to all, so that we become more faithful, Jews, Christians, and Muslims (and those of other faith traditions also).
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