Not in my baqyard? Thoughts on the “Ground Zero” mosque

How do we respond to the Cordoba Project, aka The “Ground Zero Mosque”?  Some say the placement of an Islamic place of worship near the hallowed ground of 9-11 is just plain insensitive. Others say to refuse it is a violation of the first amendment which guarantees freedom of religion. Still others say, well it’s not about freedom of religion because there are other precedents for not allowing something of this nature near a hallowed site, such as, land use disputes that battle a casino construction too close to a historic battlefield. That point seems to most deftly avoid the real issues of the heart. People are resentful and afraid. It is all about fear of this religion.

What is the Christian response to all this? It seems that in this day in which our country is more polarized than ever, and fear and self-preservation seem to have the loudest voices in the land, that we need to take extra care not to forget who we are. What is most unique about Christianity is the visible, radical hospitality of God who not only welcomes the other, He became the other, and ate and drank, lived, laughed and wept with the other.  Without the reality of the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus, we are just another moralistic system. Jesus is our precedent for how to treat those who are “different” (whatever that means), even those who are (real or perceived) enemies.

Radical hospitality cannot be offered without radical forgiveness. Indeed, I wonder if they are the same thing. Forgiveness opens the spaces of the heart that were slammed shut due to hurt, fear and shame. It’s easy to whip up feelings of fear and resentment for political gain, but where are the voices of forgiveness and reconciliation? And, where are the voices that preach the laying down of the desires of the ego so that Christ might be visible in us? These are some of our core Christian values.

What Bin Laden -who does not represent most Muslims- wants most is to goad us into a Holy War. Us against them. Religious beliefs against religious beliefs – tricking us into believing that Christianity must prove itself by postures of domination and power. Jesus took a radically different route by setting a table in the presence of his enemies. Of course some of his enemies couldn’t bear to sup with him, but that didn’t void the invitation.

What would it look like to put aside our own fears and harrumphs and accounting of offenses and set a table of hospitality?  Might it look like blessing the Islamic Community Center (whose community also lost people on 9-11) to proceed in peace? Remember, offering peace and reconciliation is rarely a nice, fluffy, feel-good process. It hurts. It is the embodiment of the gospel. And, it is the best way forward into healing.


In addition, please check out the blog of Samir Selmanovic, a Christian pastor in NYC who is one of the most reasonable and empassioned voices in interfaith dialogue today. Find him at And read his book! (my review)

And once again because we all think way too highly of ourselves and need to laugh at ourselves a bit, the link below is some related humor on the issue. Jon Stewart and company rightly ask, should an entire religion be judged by its biggest assholes?
(sorry, can’t imbed)

A sad but good NYT article-How Fox Betrayed Petraeus

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Showing 7 comments
  • LeeAnn

    when an entire religion’s biggest assholes are powerful leaders, have nuclear weapons in progress,think stoning is an acceptable form of punishment, and make shira laws which are especially demeaning to women, do you honestly think they want to sit at the table we prepare for them?

    • ellenharoutunian

      Those guys would probably refuse the invitation. But should that stop us from being who we are? And of course, they do not represent all Muslims any more than Fred Phelps represents all Christians. It comes down to what we really believe about the power of gospel.

    • Joe Paparone

      Wait…let me make a few (I think reasonable) substitutions to your comment:

      when an entire religion’s biggest assholes are powerful leaders, have nuclear weapons (and have used them),think lethal injection, the electric chair, and firing squads are acceptable forms of punishment, and make popular entertainment which is especially demeaning to women, do you honestly think they want to sit at the table we prepare for them?

      Maybe the other isn’t actually so different.

      Ellen: Outstanding post. I was thinking of writing something similar earlier but now I’m intimidated by your eloquence 🙂

  • Anj

    Thank You Ellen. Who are we and who are we called to be? Really important questions, thanks for speaking to them.

  • Doxy

    We are talking about American citizens and residents, not the leaders of Islamic nations. I am stunned that people are so willing to throw the U.S. Constitution on the scrap heap to hang on to their anti-Muslim biases. If we shred the Constitution to defend our prejudices, the terrorists “win.” We are already teetering on the brink, given the Patriot Act, Gitmo, state-sanctioned torture/assassination, etc.

    And the United States is the only nation that has ever USED nuclear weapons, so I don’t think we are in a position to feel all morally superior about that issue. We have somewhere between 150,000–250,000 casualties from Hiroshima and Nagasaki staining our hands, and we still have over 5,000 armed nuclear warheads pointed at other nations.

    Finally, Jesus had a few things to say about how to treat your “enemies.” Too bad so many “Christians” have excised those things from their Bibles….

  • Sharon

    Thanks, Ellen. Love your heart and your courage.

  • lindy

    I recently found that I am ignorant of the Muslim religion. That it is as diversified as Christianity. The Sufis who seek to build the community center in NYC is as different from militant Muslim sects as I am from the beliefs of Timothy McVeigh.

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