Reactions to mosque building in such diverse places as Manhattan and Murfreesboro, TN, are revealing, and merit our continuing attention.
What do those reactions reveal?
They reveal something old in the American psyche. We’ve been here before: on the one hand, fear and demonization of the other; on the other hand, an appeal to tolerance– a reaching out to the other in generosity of spirit. American history is full of both. Here’s what it looks and sounds like in Tennessee in 2010:
In June, Congressional candidate Lou Ann Zelenik issued a statement that included the following:
“Lou Ann stands with everyone who is opposed to the idea of an Islamic training center being built in our community. This ‘Islamic Center’ is not part of a religious movement; it is a political movement designed to fracture the moral and political foundation of Middle Tennessee.”
“Yes, we are tolerant, but our nation was founded on the tenets of the Judeo-Christian tradition; we have a right to defend that tradition. Until the American Muslim community find it in their hearts to separate themselves from their evil, radical counterparts, to condemn those who want to destroy our civilization and will fight against them, we are not obligated to open our society to any of them.”
On the other hand:
Another Congressional candidate, U.S. Marine and Iraq combat veteran Ben Leming, had this to say about opposition to the mosque, about Americans, and about fear:
“Once again, fear is our enemy, not law-abiding Americans who are exercising their constitutional right to worship free from persecution…. We must reject the loud and angry voices that manipulate and motivate people through fear. We are Americans, strong, brave, and proud.”
“The people that want to build a house of worship in Murfreesboro are not the enemy. Osama bin Laden and his band of thugs and criminals are the enemy.”
Tolerance may spring from a recognition of the rights of others. Tolerance, for a Christian, is grounded in an identification with God’s own self-disclosure in Christ: a self-disclosure whose character is a daring, generous, all-embracing agape-love.
The practical application of God’s hospitable agape-love is not naivete, nor is it insipid, namby-pamby can’t-we-all-get-along-ism. It is courageous, patient, wise-as-a-serpent-and-innocent-as-a-dove relationship-building.