Episcopalians’ views on the NYC Islamic Cultural Center

The Episcopal Church is a member of the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches which issued a statement defending the right of Muslims to build a center near the World Trade Center,

August 11, 2010

Christ calls us to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39). It is this commandment, more than the simple bonds of our common humanity, which is the basis for our relationship with Muslims around the world.

Grounded in this commitment, we question the anti-Muslim tenor of actions and speech regarding the building of Cordoba House and mosque near the site of the former World Trade Center in New York City. We are keenly aware that many Muslims, as well as Jews, Christians, Hindus, and others, lost family members in the attacks on September 11, 2001. We recognize, as does the Muslim community around the world, that it was a group of Muslims who embraced terrorism and teachings counter to the Qur’an and Islam that carried out this action. We stand with the majority of Muslims—including American Muslims—who are working against such radical influences in their communities. They have our support for building the Cordoba House as a living monument to mark the tragedy of 9/11 through a community center dedicated to learning, compassion, and respect for all people. This effort is consistent with our country’s principle of freedom of religion, and the rights all citizens should enjoy.

Some Episcopalians have also expressed their views on the controversy. Here are two:

Tobias Haller writes:

When one strips away the bold xenophobia about the “Mosque at Ground Zero” — which is neither a mosque nor at ground zero — one finds something else. Set to one side the brazen observations that suggest all Muslims are terrorists at heart, and you will find the more genteel bigotry that calls upon minorities to be sensitive to the concerns of the intolerant. This is the language of, “Some of my best friends are… but I wouldn’t want one to marry my daughter.”

It is all the more appalling to see African-Americans, such as our president, simultaneously (or serially) support the right but question the wisdom of the Park51 project, or for Governor Paterson to enter into the hustle to “relocate” the project to a more distant property.

Have both of them forgotten, “There goes the neighborhood” and “They need to know their place”?

Kendall Harmon writes:

You have to distinguish between issues of law/rights and issues of prudence. What do the families of the victims think, what do those in New York think should be crucial questions to be answered if they choose that site to build a Mosque on at this particular time. In theology, there is a principle of subsidiarity–those closest to a problem issue are often best equipped to handle the decision about it and the responsibility for it.

Kendall’s post has drawn considerable comment worth engaging, many of which echo the views of Michael Russell’s No Surrender on the First Amendment.

In unrelated news, a growing number of Americans say Obama is Muslim.

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  1. Michael Russell

    In addition to what appears in my blog, we should be very careful about endorsing Kendall Harmon’s notion of subsidiarity, because more and more, neighborhoods are resisting having churches and other houses of worship located in their midst.

    Folks here opposed a huge seeker church moving onto the former Naval Training Center land here as it was being developed. A neighboring Episcopal Congregation faced stiff opposition to building a new community center on their property. In both cases congestion was one issue, but the other was the community’s disinterest in having ministry occur that might draw “undesirables” whatever that might mean.

    In San Diego as the Gas Lamp area was being gentrified all of the ministries to the poor were pushed further from sight so that the fine people and tourists would not have to see all the folks that sought out ministries to alcoholics, addicts, the mentally ill and the poor.

    So are WE ready to be shunned out of sensitivity to some few or even many in a neighborhood that does not want a religious institution of any sort? Should we let it happen to this Islamic center, bet on it happening to other religion based efforts to locate worship or ministry in communities.

  2. The Rev. Daniel D. Robayo

    Subsidiarity is just another fancy name for NIMBY in this context [and the dangerous camel-nose-under-the-tent of the parochialism and congregationalism that has been used to lead defections from TEC and squatter on its property–but that’s another topic!].

    Not In My Back Yard, as Michael correctly points out, is used to push churches, including Episcopal churches, from neighborhoods that don’t want them. In Fairfax County, Virginia, not too long ago a neighborhood association fought the building of a new Episcopal church. They would have rather had a convenience store on that location–no undesirables (should St. Peter’s ever start a soup kitchen); no congestion to disturb their Sunday morning peace, plus a place to buy their Sunday paper; not to mention a revenue-producing business[which was the attitude of the county powers].

    I grew up as a member of an evangelical minority in Venezuela, always having to overcome the majority’s suspicions about us and our church activities, facilities, and values. I know what marginalization feels like. Thank God that here in the USA we have a Constitution and a Bill of Rights!! Are we really willing to become an intolerant & xenophobic society in reaction to the grievous harm that some seriously warped souls did to our country ? If so, the terrorists win–for our souls will be a mirror-image of theirs. Shame on those politicians and talking heads who pander to our baser instincts for their self-aggrandizing aims instead of lifting us toward our nobler aspirations!

    Opposing the building of Cordoba House–even if it were a Mosque at Ground-Zero, which as Tobias correctly points out is neither–is utterly un-American on its face.

    For those of us who claim to follow Jesus, it is absolutely essential to extend our hospitality to all people without exception. We ought to do no less than our Savior, Master and Teacher who broke bread with those called undesirable by others in his day, but who were to him God’s beloved children, worth serving and dying for.

    Daniel D. Robayo

  3. Gregory

    Americans need to read the Constitution of the United States, Article 6 of which says: “No religious test shall ever be required as a 1ualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

    In other words, it doesn’t matter, by the law of our land, what religion the President of the United States is. What matters is that he/she does his/her job: to uphold the Constitution, enforce the law and put into action legislation passed by Congress and legal interpretation passed down from the courts.

    Since President Obama doesn’t worship at a mosque, appeal to the Quran, advocate Sharia law, keep Ramadan, abstain from pork or alcohol, or make pilgrimages to Mecca, there’s no logical reason to presume he is Muslim. Just as there is no logical reason to presume that his predecessor, who waged offensive war, authorized torture and advocated for the richest over the poorest in diametric opposition to the values of Jesus Christ’s gospel, was Christian.

    “By their fruit, you will know them,” indeed (Matthew 7:16).

    Gregory Orloff

  4. Emma Pease

    The interesting thing in this case is NIMBY isn’t an issue. a poll back in July which broke out results by borough showed that 46% of those in Manhattan favored the center, 36% opposed (the rest were undecided). The local community board voted 29 to 1 (with 10 abstentions) in favor.

    I suspect they see a new community center with swimming pool and basketball court that all in the community can use replacing a mostly abandoned, damaged building in an area that is run down and without tax dollars being spent as a major benefit to them.

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