Last week New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg stood with representatives of local faith groups and declared that “there is no neighbourhood in this city that is off-limits to God’s love and mercy.” Personally, as a Christian who fully supports the proposed Muslim community centre near Ground Zero, Park51 (previously known as Cordoba House), his words echoed my heartfelt sentiments.
Yet there are many Christian Americans who have spoken out against this centre, claiming that it is inappropriate and offensive, and that its proximity to Ground Zero would allow Muslims to mock the events of 9/11. Since speaking out in support of the centre, I’ve even had other Christians accuse me of supporting the work of Satan and turning my back not only on my faith, but on everything the United States stands for.
I’ll be the first to admit that, like people of all faiths, Christians sometimes fail to follow the path of love and mercy Jesus modelled for us. We substitute our political leanings or our cultural fears in place of the command to love our neighbour.
It can be difficult to remember that the God we claim to worship is much bigger than ourselves. We do not hold a monopoly on God’s love and there are no places where we should not be at the forefront of extending it, working for reconciliation and healing.
Yet, in the continued confusion and misunderstandings sparked by the events of 9/11, I all too often encounter a culture of fear and revenge. Some Christians unfortunately say that the terrorists’ actions represent the heart of Islam. They project their fear and hatred onto all Muslims, blaming them for those events and asserting that they desire the destruction of Christianity and America’s freedoms.
Ironically, many of these same people are the first to argue when so-called Christians commit heinous acts that they do not act on behalf of all Christians. They go so far as to say they aren’t actually Christians, much less representative of the religion, as we saw recently when members of Michigan’s Hutaree Militia were arrested for planning to slaughter law enforcement workers.
But this same distinction is rarely extended to our Muslim brothers and sisters.
I wish I could offer an apology on behalf of those who hold such misinformed beliefs – for those Christians that fail to follow in the way of Jesus and who instead oppose the rights of Muslims to worship freely in our country. But I don’t speak for them. I can only live my life and use my voice to represent a different side of Christianity, one that truly believes God’s love and mercy extends everywhere.
And I can hope with Bloomberg that the building of this community centre will achieve its goal of working for reconciliation and "help repudiate the false and repugnant idea that the attacks of 9/11 are in any way consistent with Islam."
When people of diverse faiths come together as they did last week in New York in support of the community centre, we can start dismantling such false assumptions and collectively take a stand for the truth.
To that end I am grateful for the families of those that lost loved ones on 9/11 who are speaking out on behalf of Muslims and in support of Park51. These include the September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, who promote dialogue, non-violence and international cooperation, and have specifically spoken out in support of the centre. Out of their own tremendous grief they desire to protect Muslims from the kind of grief that comes from being condemned and ostracised. Instead of fearing some manufactured threat to freedom, they extend that precious freedom willingly to all.
That is Christian love in action.
Sadly, some Christians have not collectively responded well to this community centre or to Muslims since 9/11. I don’t want to hide that fact, even as I lament its reality. Some of us have strayed from the core of our faith that is rooted in love and freedom.
I pray we can take to heart Bloomberg’s recent words: “Muslims are as much a part of our city and our country as the people of any faith. And they are as welcome to worship in lower Manhattan as any other group.” We should transform our collective response into one that demonstrates those very values by supporting religious liberty for all.
* Julie Clawson is the author of Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).