Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Park 51: a Christian response

An acquaintance of mine, irritated and apparently surprised to hear that a Christian minister was a supporter of the Park 51 project to renovate a mosque as a Muslim community center near Ground Zero, called me a "Muslim lover." This person had written an article in which he had outlined some of the atrocities committed by those claiming the Muslim faith, particularly over the past few decades and it was, I have to admit, an impressive list of horrific acts resulting in the deaths of thousands of innocents. No such faith, he opined, could claim to be a religion of peace and no such faith should be practiced just a few blocks from where 19 young men claiming that faith had taken so many lives.
A reasonable argument on the face of it, unless one looks, (as Christ commanded) to the plank in our own eye at the bloody history of those who have claimed the Christian faith: from the greatest genocide in human history, perpetrated by the same nation that not only launched the Protestant Reformation, but gave Christianity so many of our theologians,to the 8000 Muslim men and boys slaughtered at Sebrenica in the mid-1990's by the "Christian" Bosnian Serb militias, to the "troubles" of Northern Ireland, the massacres of Native Americans, the Crusades and so on and so forth going back at least 17 centuries, in which the people who received Christ's commandments to love their neighbors as themselves instead twisted that religion of peace and reconciliation into an excuse for war, conquest and genocide. Jesus called upon the one without sin to cast the first stone and recognize that it is not another faith that is my enemy, but the hatred and self-righteous rage that would hold an entire people or religion or nation responsible for the perceived sins of a few.
I was called a "Muslim-lover" as an insult but in truth the epithet is a challenge and a compliment: a challenge to make it true through obedience to the commandments of my Savior to live his love in the world and a compliment because at least one person seems to think that I am already doing it. Christ's people, according to the New Testament, are commanded by our Lord to be lovers, not only of God, but of all of God's people of every faith and no faith. We are the disciples, after all, of an itinerant Jewish preacher who risked alienating his own disciples in order to reach out and embrace enemies, to offer his hand and his love to infidels, heretics and pagans. We believe that this man of Nazareth was the Logos, the Word of God himself and that his admonition that we love these "strangers" and "enemies" not just in word, "but in truth and action," was not just a moral teaching worth emulating but one of God's two Great Commandments on "which hang all the law and the prophets," and on which our own faithfulness will be judged. That is why I (along with clergy and lay people from nearly every major Christian denomination)support the efforts of my sisters and brothers of the Islamic faith to locate a holy place near ground that is hallowed, not by the deaths of the innocents, but by the efforts of those who work together to build a new and better world from the ashes of that terrible tragedy. That is what the resurrection faith of Jesus Christ tells us is the will and commandment of God and that is what Christians are commanded to do. Imam Rauf has reached out to his fellow Americans and to all people of faith and good will with an opportunity to live the love that as Christians we are commanded by our Savior to live. Islam did not destroy those innocent lives on 911, any more than Christianity built the death camps or commanded the genocidal paramilitaries of Bosnia-Herzegovina- hatred and self-righteous rage did. We do not serve God, our nation or God's people with more of the same. We do that, by recognizing an opportunity for reconciliation and seizing it, together.