The following post is a copy of what I wrote for our church newsletter in October. Though I don't usually post things of this nature here, I've been wanting to respond to the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" for awhile but struggled to do so in a way that didn't mirror back the anger and ugliness of those who were screaming about it. This doesn't come close to fully capturing my thoughts and feelings on the matter, but to be honest, I feel better for at least publicly saying this much. Just keep in mind that the original audience for these remarks was the small United Methodist congregation I serve in semi-rural Oregon.
I became increasingly dismayed during early September over the inflammatory rhetoric around the planned Islamic center near ground zero in New York. Provocative comments made by pundits and politicians alike were more calculated to sway votes and influence primary elections than to engage in honest dialogue about religious freedom in America. What was most distressing were the number of Christians who publicly engaged in “Muslim bashing,” making disrespectful—even hateful—comments about Islam and those who are Muslim.
Imagine someone who is not Christian, who has never attended a church, but who has friends or co-workers who are Muslim. Imagine someone who is not a Christian but has heard that Jesus taught his followers to love God and to love all people. And then imagine how hypocritical it would sound to them to hear people who call themselves Christian uttering mean-spirited, hurtful, inflammatory words about people who are Muslim, calling them “evil” and equating Islam with terrorism.
In our adult study this fall, “When Christians Get It Wrong”, Adam Hamilton has reminded us that many non-Christians are driven away from Christianity because of the insensitive, critical, judgmental, and mean-spirited things said and done by people who claim to be committed Christians. He also says simply, but I think correctly, that “the most powerful form of Christian witness is what we do when we express authentic love, compassion, mercy, and kindness toward others.”
Last Sunday at our youth group gathering, I shared these words from the book of James: “With [the tongue] we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so…the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy” (James 3:9-10, 17).
As we head into the mid-term elections next month, the overheated rhetoric will fill more and more of the airwaves—and little of it, if any, will be “peaceable, gentle or full of mercy”—even from the candidates who claim to be committed Christians. But we have a choice, my friends. We can choose to embrace the way of Jesus by not engaging in such destructive discourse. We can choose to use our words to express genuine kindness and concern for others—even to those with whom we disagree. And may we be careful that we do not “curse those who are made in the likeness of God.”
On the journey with you,