You’ve spoken regarding the mosque – my turn

On a drive north today I saw a sign, similar to this picture, that was intended (I think) to hearken us back to the ‘good ol’ days’ of the Bush era.  It was a big billboard of the US Constitution, with the words, “Miss Me Yet?” plastered across it.  I know the political right likes to call all of us to the “intent of the framers” which means that the courts should make decisions by seeking to understand the mind of those who wrote the laws.  The Tea Party favors limited government because the original government was small.  Because of this, the right is often crying foul about judges who “legislate from the bench”  I understand both of these philosophies, and often agree with them.  Judges shouldn’t have the authority to, with the wave of a hand, change laws, and the courts, supreme and otherwise, would do well to wrestle with the principles the original framers had in mind when the wrote the constitution and other laws. These are generally good principles, though they sometimes lead me to different conclusions than my most conservative friends.

Now, though, some Muslims want to build a mosque near “Ground Zero”.  Suddenly, the very same kind of people who put up signs implying that we’re in an era of “trashing the constitution” because we’re growing the government, and regulating more things like banks and carbon emissions (or, trying to, at least), are suddenly ready to flush the first amendment down the toilet.  That’s the one that defends our national freedom to choose our own religion, express ourselves freely, and assemble peaceably.

If we were talking about a church planning to build near ground zero, and there was opposition based on the nature of the religion, these same people who are flushing the first amendment would be posting it on billboards, petitioning the government for their freedom of religion, and publicly gathering to protest the opposition.

It appears, from my chair, that there’s a big group of Americans willing to selectively choose when the Bill of Rights applies, and to whom.  (the left does this too, but that’s another story for another time)  The very ones fighting for their rights to keep assualt rifles under their beds don’t seem terribly concerned that someone else’s religious freedoms are being threatened.  There’s a word for that: hypocrisy.

Go ahead and say that you’re afraid of Islalmic Fundamentalism if you’d like.

Go ahead and say that this could be  PR nightmare for Islam that could well backfire, setting them back still further in their attempts to reach out to America.  (I agree)

Go ahead and say it’s a bad idea.

Go ahead and say that you disagree with Islam on some very important beliefs. (I certainly do)

But don’t say they don’t have a right to build it, unless of a course, a church doesn’t have a right to build a building either which, of course, it does.  It’s ironic that a big protest of this planned mosque is planned on 9/11 at Ground Zero.  This means that people will be exercising their first amendment rights to freely assemble, and freely express themselves, for the purpose of declaring that the other part of the first amendment, the freedom to express one’s religion, only applies to certain Americans.  How tragic and inconsistent is that?

Christian xenophobia has a long, ugly history, and the group behind the anti-mosque movement is xenophobic to the extreme.  I remember, a few years ago, stepping off a train in Austria and walking into the midst of a neo-Nazi rally.  Their fear was breeding fear in Austria then, and now the same thing’s happening here.  All this makes me grateful for that pesky little bill of rights, and I pray that it will be a long, long time before we flush it down the toilet.

These are my present thoughts, and I welcome your feedback…

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • andrew

    great post. i have been trying to explain this to my friends, and finally (sometimes) the light dawns that while this might be distasteful, as long as they follow the laws of the land, it is absolutely legal, and the LAST thing i want the govt doing is regulating religion.

    And really, does not this group have some sorts of PR person? To me this is akin to the US Govt putting up an embassy in Hiroshima. in reality, it was nearly 50 years before the ambassador to Japan actually visited hiroshima and it was to pay respects to the dead. All that money and not one decent Business Graduate between them.

  • andrew

    great post. i have been trying to explain this to my friends, and finally (sometimes) the light dawns that while this might be distasteful, as long as they follow the laws of the land, it is absolutely legal, and the LAST thing i want the govt doing is regulating religion.

    And really, does not this group have some sorts of PR person? To me this is akin to the US Govt putting up an embassy in Hiroshima. in reality, it was nearly 50 years before the ambassador to Japan actually visited hiroshima and it was to pay respects to the dead. All that money and not one decent Business Graduate between them.

  • GDG

    Well said. That’s all I have to say. :)

  • GDG

    Well said. That’s all I have to say. :)

  • todds

    I agree wholeheartedly. I personally think it’s a bad idea, and boarder line offensive; but they certainly have a right to do it.

  • cody

    Thanks Richard. And just to clarify the situation. One. Its not a Mosque, but a prayer room in a Muslim cultural center over two blocks away from the ground zero sight, and people are still freaking out. I know that what you said above doesn’t change much with this info, but I still find it to be significant information that people are missing out on.

  • Per

    Hypocrisy is the name of the game. [begin sarcasm] Let’s forget the freedom of religion part (the framers didn’t mean that to apply to anyone but Christians), change the 14th amendment (the framers didn’t mean citizenship could apply to anyone but their kids), but shame on anyone who wants to crowd in on my right to bear arms…and by ‘bear arms’ I mean my assault weapons.

  • Per

    Hypocrisy is the name of the game. [begin sarcasm] Let’s forget the freedom of religion part (the framers didn’t mean that to apply to anyone but Christians), change the 14th amendment (the framers didn’t mean citizenship could apply to anyone but their kids), but shame on anyone who wants to crowd in on my right to bear arms…and by ‘bear arms’ I mean my assault weapons.

  • sp

    do they have the right to do this? That’s beyond my pay-grade. We’ll leave that to the laws of the country, whether made by activist judges, or due process. I’ll assume they have that right, and if I had to vote “should they be allowed to do this”…sure, I would have to say yes to that.

    But this rather annoying topic seems to be used as a “let’s play devil’s advocate, to see how much we can all push each others buttons”…and to that, I say, why?

    Not sure how much of this is a rant, or an opportunity for op-ed, or just a passionate plea made out of the internal annoyance of raincitypastor…but either way, I’m trying to figure out how, or if, any of this changes my faith or view of God.

    • raincitypastor

      Not ranting. Rather, inviting discussion on an issue that’s been front page news for a week. I also write because I believe that to be deeply rooted in Christ means to be secure enough, confident enough in God’s involvement in history, strong enough, to think clearly, to identify profiling for the evil that it is, and distance ourselves from the dangerous path that Christians have walked time and time again in history, whether in Rwanda, or Germany, America or Spain. The embarrassing and tragic mistakes that have been made when God’s people follow the fearful crowd are too numerous to mention. I’m hoping we’re not heading there again.

  • http://www.welcometomarriedlife.com Krista

    I’ve been reading this with interest… up until I met my husband I was pretty standard “American” and probably would have freaked out about this. But he grew up in Saudi Arabia and I’ve since been there myself.

    In the Muslim world they hate “America”, but usually they love Americans. Funny. The reason being because their government does not represent them. So they think that our government doesn’t represent us and we are actually nice people. I shudder to think what would happen if they realized that supposedly our government does represent us. Just as we don’t fully understand how they live in basically dictatorships.

    In some ways I think a lot of it comes down to… how many Muslims do you know? It’s really hard to objectify or stereotype someone you know. Just like I see the “Mexican problem” a lot differently because I live in a highly populated Hispanic area and I have friends and neighbors who are Mexican. In any people group there are always those “bad eggs” who give the rest a bad name.
    I think we need to make an effort to get our of our comfort zones and meet some Muslims. Talk to them and find out how they live and what they believe in. Maybe it won’t change anything on a global scale, but I bet it will change our hearts.

    • ATA

      I appreciate your thoughts, Krista. I totally agree, and would add that this is an important time to lovingly pray for Muslims, as it is the month of Ramadan (as I’m sure you are well aware).

  • http://www.welcometomarriedlife.com Krista

    I’ve been reading this with interest… up until I met my husband I was pretty standard “American” and probably would have freaked out about this. But he grew up in Saudi Arabia and I’ve since been there myself.

    In the Muslim world they hate “America”, but usually they love Americans. Funny. The reason being because their government does not represent them. So they think that our government doesn’t represent us and we are actually nice people. I shudder to think what would happen if they realized that supposedly our government does represent us. Just as we don’t fully understand how they live in basically dictatorships.

    In some ways I think a lot of it comes down to… how many Muslims do you know? It’s really hard to objectify or stereotype someone you know. Just like I see the “Mexican problem” a lot differently because I live in a highly populated Hispanic area and I have friends and neighbors who are Mexican. In any people group there are always those “bad eggs” who give the rest a bad name.
    I think we need to make an effort to get our of our comfort zones and meet some Muslims. Talk to them and find out how they live and what they believe in. Maybe it won’t change anything on a global scale, but I bet it will change our hearts.

    • ATA

      I appreciate your thoughts, Krista. I totally agree, and would add that this is an important time to lovingly pray for Muslims, as it is the month of Ramadan (as I’m sure you are well aware).

  • http://www.welcometomarriedlife.com Krista

    PS. Here’s another article written by a man who used to be an ambassador (I believe) to Saudi Arabia. His blog is well worth reading if you want to keep up on what goes on there.

  • Joe
  • Joe
  • thomas

    Richard I think you get at some of the same points this columnist does in what I thought was quite a good and thoughtful column on the subject: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/16/opinion/16douthat.html

    I also think that you’re right to point out that the argument should be centered more on whether the strategy of provocation (and there is no doubt it is a provocative choice) is an effective tool for starting effective dialogue concerning Muslim identity and prejudice in America (for example here are some fellow Muslims who argue it is a bad strategy, but don’t pass a kidney stone about the American constitution in the process: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/Mischief+Manhattan/3370303/story.html).

    On the one hand, it has certainly brought the dialogue about some of these issues and the idea of Islam in the public imagination to the forefront (I’ve talked with more people about this subject in the past few weeks than in a long time), on the other hand our public discourse is so broken down and, I don’t know…uncivil…that the dialogue is dominated by cynical talking heads, comedians, and politicians trying to gain some sort of political advantage (on both sides). In a sense, this is a blessing for us as westerners/Christians in the sense it that exposes something ugly about us, about how we think about things, about how we talk about things, and why how we think/talk does actually matter. The question is, how do we respond to this ugliness? For a Christian church that has strong disagreements with Islam, or for individual Christians like you and myself who have fundamental disagreements with different elements of Muslim belief, and who believe those disagreements are important and can’t be swept under the rug in the name of some sort of shallow kumbaya-ism, this question is especially pertinent, and difficult. But hey, the way of truth and Christ is a narrow road, right? The easy one (blind discrimination, shallow “acceptance”, cynicism, apathy etc.) is wide with way too many people on it, and we’re promised it leads nowhere good.

    Also, thanks for graciously accepting my earlier comments/critique with charity – I did attempt to offer them in a constructive and charitable spirit, but I’m afraid that the “blogosphere” isn’t always conducive to communicating tone and spirit, and reading them over later I was cringing a little. So I appreciate it.

  • thomas

    Richard I think you get at some of the same points this columnist does in what I thought was quite a good and thoughtful column on the subject: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/16/opinion/16douthat.html

    I also think that you’re right to point out that the argument should be centered more on whether the strategy of provocation (and there is no doubt it is a provocative choice) is an effective tool for starting effective dialogue concerning Muslim identity and prejudice in America (for example here are some fellow Muslims who argue it is a bad strategy, but don’t pass a kidney stone about the American constitution in the process: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/Mischief+Manhattan/3370303/story.html).

    On the one hand, it has certainly brought the dialogue about some of these issues and the idea of Islam in the public imagination to the forefront (I’ve talked with more people about this subject in the past few weeks than in a long time), on the other hand our public discourse is so broken down and, I don’t know…uncivil…that the dialogue is dominated by cynical talking heads, comedians, and politicians trying to gain some sort of political advantage (on both sides). In a sense, this is a blessing for us as westerners/Christians in the sense it that exposes something ugly about us, about how we think about things, about how we talk about things, and why how we think/talk does actually matter. The question is, how do we respond to this ugliness? For a Christian church that has strong disagreements with Islam, or for individual Christians like you and myself who have fundamental disagreements with different elements of Muslim belief, and who believe those disagreements are important and can’t be swept under the rug in the name of some sort of shallow kumbaya-ism, this question is especially pertinent, and difficult. But hey, the way of truth and Christ is a narrow road, right? The easy one (blind discrimination, shallow “acceptance”, cynicism, apathy etc.) is wide with way too many people on it, and we’re promised it leads nowhere good.

    Also, thanks for graciously accepting my earlier comments/critique with charity – I did attempt to offer them in a constructive and charitable spirit, but I’m afraid that the “blogosphere” isn’t always conducive to communicating tone and spirit, and reading them over later I was cringing a little. So I appreciate it.

  • Katie

    I think that we are called to love everyone enemies, friends, strangers a like. Easier said then done of course for we all fall short of that but we can always keep trying. I find peace that I was not put here to pick and choose who is worthy of love ( way to big of a job) but to to have an open heart to people. I think that the best thing we can do is pray for people to open their hearts.

  • Katie

    I think that we are called to love everyone enemies, friends, strangers a like. Easier said then done of course for we all fall short of that but we can always keep trying. I find peace that I was not put here to pick and choose who is worthy of love ( way to big of a job) but to to have an open heart to people. I think that the best thing we can do is pray for people to open their hearts.

  • sp

    The Wall Street Journal had an op-ed piece this morning:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703589804575445841837725272.html?mod=WSJ_hpp_LEFTTopStories

    …which talked about how Islamic groups were looking at this “discussion” as a way to become more polarized, and a reason to step up anti-US propaganda.

    One such website had this quote: “By Allah, the wars are heated and you Americans are the ones who…enflamed it,” says one such posting. “By Allah you will be the first to taste its flames.” The article goes onto say that “the violent postings are not just on al Qaeda-linked websites but on prominent, mainstream Muslim chat forums”.

    As I said above, my opinion is that it is fully legal for them to build this mosque…and legality is what will determine whether this thing gets built or not. So, let them build it already, and be done with this conversation! This conversation won’t, in the end, be doing anyone any favors. It only polarizes and divides, seems to me. This same “discussion” caused fuel to be added to the fire from other sides too…including some guys who want to burn Koran’s at ongoing regular intervals. Great…just what we need. Hate spewed both ways.

    Even so, for what it’s worth, them building this mosque is a bad idea on the part of those trying to build it….and whoever is playing the role of foreign-relations for their cause is doing a horrible job. Truth is, they don’t care about foreign relations much. If they did, they might consider building this place of worship somewhere else across the fruited plains. They strategically chose a burial ground instead. But can I, or would I want to stop them? No. Even God allows people to go down the paths they choose, right? Should any of us be any different?

    After all, what’s legal is not necessarily (and maybe directly opposed to) what’s edifying, or what’s the right thing to do. Such is the case with this, as far as I’m concerned.

    As for why this discussion is being brought in under a “Christian” wrapper, I don’t fully understand or appreciate. Doing it as a warning, fearful that Christians might go the way of history and re institute the times of inquisition? Not in my lifetime. And that’s for the better, of course. But I cannot believe this is the real reason, as that’s not a realistic risk today in 2010.

    And the fact that what seemed to tip off this missive was because of a Bush-era road sign? When will the bitterness and cynicism from the Bush era be dealt with at the individual level? Maybe NOT in my lifetime, it seems.

    It feels like a bait-and-switch to sell a political agenda to me. And if I have to pick one side of the isle that I would like to be baited-and-switched on, I may prefer left leaning, because I want to balance myself out, and as a balance to most right-leaning Church messages…but why the bias at all?

    I’ll believe that this missive wasn’t an intentional left-leaning message in a Christian’ized wrapper if the next blog written addresses why America lives a double-standard by allowing Mosque to be build on burial ground, but doesn’t allow structures to be built on Indian burial grounds. (and trust me, I sincerely hope not to see that blog be written here, or anywhere)

    Did Jesus bias one way or another? Whatever answer your mind just came up with, I would argue, is YOUR (yours, mine, etc.) bias, not necessarily Jesus’s. In many many Christian’s minds, Jesus is right leaning…and it seems here (in this missive) that Jesus must be, of course, left leaning.

    In my mind, Jesus wouldn’t have been involved in this discussion at all. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, right? This is Caesar’s jurisdiction. I think the world would be smart to recognize that.

    We as Christians would be helped in using self-control, and not take the bait on such discussions. Not because we shouldn’t have a voice, or should be hesitant, and not because we might not feel passionately about the issue…but rather, because there is not much life here to be had here, or that can be offered.

  • Laurie

    Thanks to Cody for the clarification, I think it makes a big difference…. Indeed it is their right to build whatever this is….and maybe it’s because I don’t have a television, but it seems to me that protests aren’t being made by xenophobic Christians against the right to build this, but by hurting family members and friends whose loved ones were taken from them on that fateful day and are asking Why? Why don’t you build it somewhere else?

  • Will B

    This sounds like a reasonable opinion, but is woefully inadequate. First off, Islam is NOT trying to reach out to America. The goal of Islam is to TAKE OVER America, just as it is trying to do in every other country in the world. Don’t imagine for a minute that this is equal in any way to Christian evangelism. Christians (some) certainly are trying to spread the Christian gospel around the world and convince people to accept Christ. One first big difference is that Christianity allows people to choose. Islam does not. There is not a single example in the history of the world where Islam was in control but did not FORCE its citizens to convert, or be arrested, tortoured, enslaved and eventually killed. Yep, this did happen at very limited periods of time with some Christians in the past (long past). The second big difference is that Islam is still trying to do this, whereas Christianity grew out of this practice long ago. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that certain Christian groups grew out of this practice. Back then, it was a generally violent world and everyone who was anyone wielded power by force. That’s just the way it was. Some (not all) countries controlled by Christians went along with the world system and did this. Those countries controlled by Islam did the same things at that time. The difference here is that Islam never stopped doing this. This leads to the third big difference between Christianity and Islam. You cannot find one single remote implication in the New Testament that Christians are ever to force or coerce people into believing in Christ or making such a profession. No where. You can barely turn a page in the Quran without reading commands to do this or that against non-Muslims. Anyone (even babies of non-Muslims) who do not follow the Quran are not just unbelievers; they are enemies. They are not innocent or ignorant, they are evil. That is the teaching of the book that Muslims read, learn and follow.

    I recently heard — but have not had opportunity to confirm it — that it is a common practice to build a mosque at or near sites of “great” Muslim conquests. If that is true, it explains why the Muslims are so adamant on building as close to Ground Zero as possible, even though they already have over 50 mosques in the city, and even though it is not an area where Muslims live (nearly no one lives there since it is a business district) and even though there is already a mosque not very far away.

    Furthermore — this I do know for a fact — any location that has ever been a mosque in the past is still a holy Islamic site in the mind of Muslims and if it is not a mosque, it must be reclaimed and rebuilt. So if the Ground Zero mosque is ever built, it will be pretty much impossible to ever remove it.

    I do not want to be rude, but your statement, “But don’t say they don’t have a right to build it, unless of a course, a church doesn’t have a right to build a building either which, of course, it does” is an example of your lack of investigation. There was a church at Ground Zero which was destroyed in the attack. After nearly 10 years, the city has still not allowed them to RE-build the church on the same land that the church owned BEFORE 9-11, a building which was there BEFORE 9-11. So your point is moot. A mosque that did not exist there is being fast-tracked and the RE-building of a previously-existing church IS being prevented.

    • Tom

      Wow a whole lot of generalizations and sweeping conclusions here but I’ll focus on one.

      “One first big difference is that Christianity allows people to choose.” SOME Christians may feel this way but many do not. Christians often also use fear tactics, guilt, or offer succor with the expectation that those assisted embrace the faith. No way that you can clearly define a difference between Islam and Christianity on this opinion, it simply doesn’t hold up.

    • http://girlwithflathat.blogspot.com Juliet

      To add to Tom’s post:

      “There is not a single example in the history of the world where Islam was in control but did not FORCE its citizens to convert, or be arrested, tortoured, enslaved and eventually killed.”

      This is simply untrue. In most cases, Islamic states allowed dhimmi (mainly Jews and Christians) to worship as they pleased as long as they paid taxes. Muslims were exempt from many taxes, so any empire that killed or forcibly converted all its non-Muslims would have eliminated its tax base. Certainly dhimmi were second-class citizens, but they weren’t persecuted as you described, at least not for the majority of Islamic history. If you don’t believe me, look at the religious tolerance that existed in Muslim Cordoba, after which the Islamic center will be named – you’d be hard-pressed to find a similar example of peaceful coexistence between Christians, Jews, and Muslims in any Christian-ruled land before the modern era. And then there’s the way Christians treated Jews: ghettos, inquisitions, exiles, pogroms…and not all in the “long past,” either.

      • thomas

        To continue to try and deflate and clarify some of Will B.’s generalizations and comments:

        Your comment about the “mosque being fast-tracked” and a church destroyed in the attacks being stalled is misleading (you seem to be implying that the church building has been blocked due to the fact that it is a church). Here is an article about the destroyed church and the conflicts surrounding the rebuilding process http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/19/nyregion/19church.html?_r=1

        From what I gather (from this article and others), the hold up has nothing to do with the religious affiliation of the group wanting to re-build (ie. an anti-Christian/anti-Greek-Orthodox bias), but is due to the bloated bureacracy surrounding the building process on and near the ground zero site, disagreements over church size, where the money to rebuild is coming from etc. There are many issues at work here, but discriminaton on religious grounds does not seem to be one of them. It seems more likely that the proposed Muslim community center and mosque has been approved because it’s not actually at ground zero, it’s two blocks away, so it probably has not been facing the same zoning and budgetary nightmares that seem to surround all projects associated with the ground zero site – including any attempt at a memorial (as has been noted by a number of news outlets in recent weeks, including the AP, the term “ground zero mosque” is inaccurate and misleading).

        Also, I hope people will note your “I recently heard – but have not confirmed it…” comment and so take your comments with that in mind. I would also encourage you to look a little deeper beyond some of the rhetoric you seem to have taken to heart concerning Muslims – try and learn more about some of the things you have only “heard” about so far (avoiding the internet and television where possible), and if you still feel the way you do now, you will at least be able to enter into a more fruitful argument with a better grasp of the complexity of the issues and the people involved. Of course, I offer this encouragement/critique not just to you, but to myself as well – the things we critique in others are often the things we too frequently overlook in ourselves, so please take my comment in that spirit, if you are able.

  • Lute

    Haven’t even read the other comments. How anyone could possibly disagree with your post I have no idea.

  • http://www.welcometomarriedlife.com Krista
  • Tom

    Wow a whole lot of generalizations and sweeping conclusions here but I’ll focus on one.

    “One first big difference is that Christianity allows people to choose.” SOME Christians may feel this way but many do not. Christians often also use fear tactics, guilt, or offer succor with the expectation that those assisted embrace the faith. No way that you can clearly define a difference between Islam and Christianity on this opinion, it simply doesn’t hold up.

  • http://girlwithflathat.blogspot.com Juliet

    To add to Tom’s post:

    “There is not a single example in the history of the world where Islam was in control but did not FORCE its citizens to convert, or be arrested, tortoured, enslaved and eventually killed.”

    This is simply untrue. In most cases, Islamic states allowed dhimmi (mainly Jews and Christians) to worship as they pleased as long as they paid taxes. Muslims were exempt from many taxes, so any empire that killed or forcibly converted all its non-Muslims would have eliminated its tax base. Certainly dhimmi were second-class citizens, but they weren’t persecuted as you described, at least not for the majority of Islamic history. If you don’t believe me, look at the religious tolerance that existed in Muslim Cordoba, after which the Islamic center will be named – you’d be hard-pressed to find a similar example of peaceful coexistence between Christians, Jews, and Muslims in any Christian-ruled land before the modern era. And then there’s the way Christians treated Jews: ghettos, inquisitions, exiles, pogroms…and not all in the “long past,” either.


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