Led by the National Council of Churches (NCC), the Religious Left is backing the proposed Ground Zero Islamic Center while denouncing the mosque’s skeptics as “hateful.”
Revealingly, the statement endorsed by 40 religious “leaders” is relatively narrowly comprised of top NCC officials, left-wing Catholics, Muslim groups, and mostly second-tier Jewish groups, plus J Street. Missing are the usual Mainline Protestant clerics, Eastern Orthodox, and prominent liberal Jews typically found on NCC-organized political blasts. No prominent evangelicals are on the list.
The interfaith enthusiasts for the mosque chimed:
As Catholic, evangelical, mainline Protestant, Jewish and Muslim leaders and scholars committed to religious freedom and inter-religious cooperation, we are deeply troubled by the xenophobia and religious bigotry that has characterized some of the opposition to a proposed Islamic center and mosque near where the World Trade Center towers once stood.
Few critics of the $100 million proposed Cordoba House Islamic Community Center near the World Trade Center site dispute the right of any religious group to construct a house of worship in America. What is disputed by Ground Zero mosque critics are the wisdom and sensitivity of building an Islamic Center near where Islamist fanatics murdered over 2,000 New Yorkers. Whatever the professed intent of the mosque builders, radical Islamists likely will see the mosque’s construction as a Jihadist victory.
Some critics of the Ground Zero mosque have appealed to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf to exemplify the interfaith sensitivity he claims his Islamic Center will promote by relocating the mosque site. These appeals have garnered no sympathy from the imam. Other critics ask New York to refuse permission for mosque construction on this particular site and instead to facilitate another location. Left-leaning church groups like the NCC possibly could have employed their own long history of interfaith cooperation to mediate a reasonable compromise and to persuade the imam and his supporters to heed sensitivities about 9-11. But instead the NCC is embracing the Ground Zero mosque full throttle, all sensitivities be cursed, and denouncing all who are less than zealous for the Islamic Center as bigots.
Almost surely the NCC would denounce Christians who desired to build a church, even after 1,000 years, near the venerated site of the slaughter of Muslims during the crusades, that is, if churches could actually be freely built in the Middle East, outside of democratic Israel. But for much of the Religious Left, sensitivity and accommodation are only desired for Western Christians when dealing with non-Western religionists. Although itself an historically crusading and conquering faith, Islam’s adherents, as ostensibly chronic victims of Western imperialism, are never expected to yield, at least not by the Religious Left. Naturally, this pro-mosque Religious Left coalition is more distressed over Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin than ascendant radical Islam.
“Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House, is the most recent prominent opponent to cast this debate in a way that demonizes all Muslims and exploits fear to divide Americans,” the pro-mosque religionists angrily complained. Noting that Gingrich is a Roman Catholic, they also swiped at another Religious Left bête noire, Sarah Palin, who, the statement darkly observed, is “an evangelical Christian who frequently references her faith as an inspiration for her political beliefs.” Finally, the pro-mosque religionists targeted Fox News for spewing forth a “steady stream of irresponsible commentary and biased coverage that reduces what should be a civil debate into starkly combative terms.” Evidently, calling mosque skeptics bigots and xenophobes is not “combative.”
The Religious Left mosque apologists tut-tutted about a “a small minority of violent extremists manipulates religious language for political gain and falsely claims to represent one of the world’s great religions.” But groups like the NCC almost never say anything directly critical of radical Islamists except when absolutely politically obliged. “Extreme” Christians who warn against Islamist influence are typically more distressing to most of the Religious Left than most Islamists. They lamented the “sinful corruption of religion across faith traditions throughout history,” which of course fits with the Religious Left view that radical Islam is not a unique threat. Of greater concern to this crowd are the “ugly stereotypes about Islam” that demean the “vast majority of Muslims committed to peace.”
This NCC-led coalition reassuringly described the Cordoba House Islamic Center that will be “open to all Americans that will provide Islamic, interfaith and secular programs” in support of “integration, tolerance of difference and community cohesion through arts and culture.” Highly impressed with these goals, the pro-mosque religionists excitedly pronounced: “These are exactly the kind of efforts that foster dialogue, break down barriers and begin to build a world where religiously inspired violent extremism is less likely.” No doubt. In contrast with the lovefest envisioned at the new mosque, Gingrich and Palin must stop “issuing inflammatory statements” and desist from “fear-mongering and hateful rhetoric.”
Lest anyone miss the point, NCC President Peg Chemberlin, a Moravian minister from Minnesota, apparently issued her own enhancing statement, making the umpteenth banal comparison of radical Islamists no more speaking for Islam than does Timothy McVeigh speak for Christians. Of course, unlike the 9-11 Islamists, the largely agnostic McVeigh never professed any religious purposes behind his terrorism. But never mind, the NCC official needed some violent example of uncontrolled Christianity, and McVeigh was as close as she could reach evidently.
Finding prominent Christians who would sign this blast in defense of the Ground Zero mosque and against Gingrich and Palin apparently was also a reach. Besides Chemberln and the NCC’s General Secretary Michael Kinnamon, the Christian signators are mostly academics or left-wing Catholic groups like Pax Christi and the Maryknollers. J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami is the most prominent Jewish signer. Of course, the Muslim Public Affairs Council and Islamic Society of North America gladly signed. But why none of the usual suspects from among the NCC’s constituency, like the United Methodists or Episcopalians? Could even they be wary of endorsing what is opposed by groups like the Anti-Defamation League, which has said: “Building an Islamic center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain – unnecessarily – and that is not right.”
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