Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Mosque Near Ground Zero

Earlier today a city panel in New York voted unanimously to deny historical landmark status to a building located just two blocks from the World Trade Center site that developers plan to convert into an Islamic community center and mosque. This vote effectively clears the way for the developers to continue with their plans and is a huge setback for opponents who claim that building a mosque so close to “ground zero” is disrespectful to the 3,000 people killed at that location by Islamic terrorists on September 11, 2001. They claim that this amounts to a victory monument, a metaphoric finger in the eye of New York City and the United States of America.

Although the plan is supported by mayor Bloomberg and many other prominent politicians there are plenty of people and organizations that are lining up in opposition, including The American Center for Law and Justice and the Anti-Defamation League. This is potentially an emotionally charged issue for many reasons but for our purposes it raises the interesting question of the relationship between commitments to our faith and those to our country.

There are many American Christians whose American ideology is intertwined with the doctrinal commitments of their Christian faith. They view it as practically unchristian to disagree with the philosophical premises upon which Americanism rests, especially the ideas as expressed in the writings of the federalists who founded our country. I do not have the space here to develop in detail the dangers inherent in making the assumption that Americanism as an ideology is wholly derived from, or perfectly consistent with, Christian doctrine but I would like to focus generally on one question that the vote on this mosque brings into sharp focus.

There is perhaps nothing considered more “American” than the freedom of religious expression. It is this right that is the first and most prominent right articulated in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the United States. Nearly as foundational to the American system are speech and private property rights. The rights of private citizens to express their political or religious views as well as the right to be free from excessive government intrusion when using private property are essential to the American ideal. On the face of it there would seem to be nothing more anti-American than for the government to refuse private citizens the right to peaceably worship in the way that pleases them inside a building they own or to express their religious views. The arguments that allowing this Islamic center in that location are hurtful or tasteless and should therefore be prevented seem (at least to me) to be insufficient in the face of the broader constitutional principals involved even if they are correct.

From a Christian perspective, however, a mosque on any corner is a victory monument of The enemy of the Gospel because Islam denies that Jesus Christ is God, the second person of the Trinity, and the only savior of mankind. As Americans we have many reasons for opposing the particular placement of the mosque in Manhattan including the pain that it may cause to those whose loved ones were killed but the more important foundational issue for us as Christians should be the souls of those who will worship there.

What should the role of government be in these cases? The governmental structures of the United States are decidedly unreligious (I didn’t say anti-religious). When the U.S. was founded it was perhaps the most secular country in existence and it continues to have a more secular governing apparatus than most countries. Many concepts that are foundational to the American ideal are influenced by Christianity but find their root in the philosophical systems of the Enlightenment rather than any particular Christian understanding. In many ways the American founding was a purposeful departure from the Christian concepts of government prevalent up to that time.

The Roman Catholic Church has historically held that the ecclesiastical and civil authorities are distinct powers exercising authority in different spheres that nevertheless work toward a unified “Christendom”. In early Protestantism (apart from the Anabaptists) the concept was that church and state should be combined. The old Protestant ideal was that the governmental authority was to be a servant of God, bearing the sword to bring God’s wrath to those who oppose Him. Civil power was an extension of the ministry (even to this day it is technically illegal for a non-protestant to wear the English crown and the British sovereign is the head of the Anglican Church). There was no such combination of ecclesiastical and political power in the U.S.

Are the events of September 11th a compelling enough reason for the government to intercede to prevent this Islamic center from being built simply because of its particular religious nature?

Is there any biblical reason why this mosque should be more disturbing to Christians than any other mosque?

Should we be uncomfortable with the fact that our patriotic commitments incline us to support the right of establishing places of false teaching within our communities or can we, as Christians, support the building of this mosque as consistent with a higher Christian priority, namely separation of political and ecclesiastical authority?

1 comment:

  1. A radio talk show host brought up a few interesting points on this mosque deal. This Eman or whatever his name is, doesn't consider the Hamas a terrorist organization for starters, and the government is using our tax dollars to pay this guy to travel to the Mideast to collect money to build either the mosque in New York or other places. Eman also said the United States was an accessory to the 09/11. Another point he brought up is that some mosques in or around New York have either been busted for raising money for terrorist organizations or are suspect. I get the point, nothing more anti-American than refusing it's citizens the right to private worship, but over 3 thousand Americans were lost by radical muslims terrorist, probably screaming allah is great seconds before flying the jets right into the towers. It's interesting, the Japanese as far I know didn't build a shrine to Buddha at Pearl Harbor did they? Are we not still at war with terrorist? No, there's nothing more anti-American than allowing any mosque within 50 miles of ground zero. This is about compassion, mercy, and sensitivity to those who lost people in the attack. If anything they should turn it into a memorial site. As Americans they can build their mosques and worship their god anywhere they want, but not there, not in New York.