I have a feeling I am going to be in the minority on this one…
My parents are Russian immigrants. They left Russia for greener pastures fleeing Stalin and to a lesser degree looking for religious freedom. My mom was a Russian Baptist, my dad a Molokan. The Molokans especially were in the minority and not a favorite of the Pravaslavnye (Orthodox Church) although small enough to fly under the radar. Nonetheless, it was a minor factor in their emigration from the then Soviet Union.
Now the Molokans are an exclusive albeit non-violent sect of Christianity. The history of the movement is not well documented, but it appears as a reactionary response against Orthodoxy started by a charismatic figure who had a dramatic and prophetic role in the lives of the people around him. He wrote a book, started a movement, an it still exists today. There are 5 churches in the Los Angeles area; others in San Francisco, the Fresno area, Oregon and I am sure other enclaves in the US. I called the Molokans exclusive. Theologically (although this too is hard to nail down, no formal doctrinal statement, no uniform authoritative body to define the fine distinctions of theology, connections that are based to a great deal on the ethnic/social ties of community as opposed to systematics or ecclesiological structure. In light of this the following characterizations may not be universally declared but they certainly are around) Molokans feel a certain chosen status, a sort of inheritance of the chosen people status that belonged to the nation of Israel. As a result they follow some of the civil law of the Old Testament: dietary laws, a version of the feast /holiday calendar. They would not encourage intermarriage, in fact it is much stronger than that. There is a name for outsiders: “not ours.” To marry outside puts you outside.
I raise all of this because it is relevant to groups I don’t agree with having religious freedom, and the importance of that liberty with no respect to a particular religion, even my own.
It is absurd to object to the proposed Mosque near Ground Zero. Here is why.
First, the truth is that the mosque is not on Ground Zero, it is two blocks north of Ground Zero. In response to the claims that the allowance of the mosque there would violate sacred ground is based on proximity to Ground Zero, this is two blocks away – this is not the sight of the deaths and it is a stretch to consider the building to be on sacred ground. This objection is pure emotionalism.
Second and related to the first, the placing of a mosque so close to the sight of so many deaths is insensitive to those who lost loved ones on 9/11. This emotional argument makes the mistake of encouraging the false notion that all Muslims and all mosques are culpable for the events of 9/11. This is not true on any level. Nurturing and fostering this falsehood does not heal the wounds of loss.
Third, a corollary to 2: Muslims lost their lives on 9/11. They worked in the twin towers and they are as much the victims of the terrorism as any other humans in the building.
Fourth, at the time of 9/11 and even now the criticism of non-extremist Muslims, Muslims who do not agree with Islamic fundamentalism the terrorism associated with Islamic fundamentalism have been criticized for not speaking against the terrorism. Now, a mosque that is not interested in terrorism, with a leader described by Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic as that kind of Muslim “Bin Laden fears most: a Muslim who believes that it is possible to remain true to the values of Islam and, at the same time, to be a loyal citizen of a Western, non-Muslim country”, is being proposed. We can’t have it both ways. We can’t criticize Muslims who bury their heads in the sand and remain mute and then criticize those Muslims brave enough to make the kind of statement we have begged them to make in the first place.
Fifth, we live in the USA. This country was founded in part on the right of religious liberty. Our forefathers left a nation where the government favored its own religious expression and attempted to make all others conform with their brand of religion. What is being suggested is simply unconstitutional.
Sixth, the only people happy about this situation are (a) ignorant and fearful people who are making serious errors in judgment and logic, and (b) those opposed to ALL religious groups having access to buildings like this for their meetings and having any privileged standing in our tax codes as non-profit and religious institutions. If we restrict Muslims from building mosques we have no grounds to apply for the building of churches.
Seventh, the location of the mosque in this instance is really a red herring. Groups are protesting mosques in other areas (including Temecula for my local readers) on similar grounds without the emotional connection to Ground Zero. This points out that it really isn’t an objection to the location, it is an objection to Islam.
Eighth, standing up for the rights of Americans is a good thing. Taking away the rights of American citizens is not an appropriate response to the plague of terrorism. Saying the truth in this instance does not equate to an apologetic of Islam.
Ninth, generally religious institutions have a positive effect upon society. Granted, some religions are superior to others and I think one is true in a way that all others are not, yet most religious institutions attempt to instill values in the hearts, minds and behaviour of their followers. Many are manipulative, controlling and otherwise despicable, but in general they are a positive force in culture. Islam has examples of both. So does Christianity.
Tenth, the potential for evil resides in the heart of man. Individuals can be dangerous. Individuals who get power and influence over a group and couple that power with evil intentions are more dangerous. When individuals do double duty, that is they serve in positions of power in more than one sphere they can be incredibly dangerous. Islam’s major challenge in my opinion is that they have not solved the relationship between church and state equation. As long as those issues are intertwined to the degree that they are indistinguishable, we will be facing an entity that has great potential for evil.
There is a confusion of this legitimate overarching concern with the illegitimate opposition to this mosque. In general, as Christians we are opposed to the religious war aspect of Islam (our limited understanding of the idea of jihad). A caution is not to bear arms as “Christians” against “Muslims”, rather to support a response to terrorists, and believe that in attacking terrorists we understand that there are those living in proximity to the terrorists who desire relief from the terrorism as well. Essentially we must take care to diminish the religious war overtones inherent in this worldwide issue.
When some of those who lived in proximity to terrorists leave and find their way to the land of freedom, let’s not put them without cause in the same box as the terrorists.
Read this NY Times article entitled The Danger of Demonizing Adherents of Islam