Let’s say a group of Christians want to build a new church building. They buy the land and get through all of the legal red tape. This church has actually been in town for three decades. They’re not perfect, but no church is. They help out in the community; even have a ministry that assists the needy.
So they’re all set to build a new building when some citizens in that town demand that they be stopped. You see, they’ve heard about Westboro Baptist Church and fear this church might be full of hate mongers. Someone else heard about some Christians that bomb abortion clinics and worry that this church may harbor similar terrorists. Others have read about pedophilia in some Catholic churches and are concerned the ministers of this local church might be doing the same.
There is no evidence that this particular church has hate mongers, terrorists, or pedophiles, but they do teach from the same Bible as those other churches that do. And they all call themselves Christians. It’s better to keep those kind of people out of town.
I read a story similar to that in The Tennessean this morning. Except instead of a church, this town was trying to shut down a mosque. This particular religious community has been in the town for 30 years with nary a complaint. Yet the people filing the complaint allege that those attending the mosque have terrorist ties. The totality of that accusation appears, at least on the surface, to comprise of the fact that they teach Islam.
Never mind that there are millions of Muslims around the world that are not terrorists; just like not every church is a Westboro nor every Christian an abortion clinic bomber nor every minister/priest a pedophile. Yet this community of Muslims, which has fed the hungry, sent money for disaster relief, and even adopted a local highway has been under pressure since 2010 to shutter their doors.
Now why do I care? After all, I am not Muslim. Yet I care because I want to follow Jesus’ command to love my neighbor as myself. Even though I do not believe in the same faith as these men and women do, it is not right for them to be harassed. In fact, it is unjust. 9/11 or no 9/11, they should not have to proactively prove that they are not dangerous just because they share a faith with some depraved religious extremists.
Some will undoubtedly say, “But what if they are terrorists?” Here’s the thing about love: it is a vulnerable thing. It does not come to a person and ask him or her to prove themselves worthy. Does that involve risk? Yes! Loads of it. But Jesus didn’t say, “Love the neighbors that are like you” or “Love only the neighbors that you trust.” He said, “Love your neighbor.”
These men and women are my neighbors. They should be allowed to worship in peace. They should not pay for the sins of others that besmirch the name of their faith no more than I want all Christians to be judged by Fred Phelps or Pat Robertson.
Trying to take away this community’s place of worship by whatever means necessary does not convey love. Instead, it broadcasts distrust, fear, and hatred. Even if they were terrorists, which I highly doubt, the course of action being taken by these townsfolk only reinforces the terrorist notions about America. But love, I believe love has the capacity to turn the heart of absolutely anyone.
I don’t live in the town where this is happening, so I am not sure what exactly I can do to love these neighbors of min. Yet I want to at least give my voice. I stand with these men and women and their freedom to worship. Though I do not know them, I love them.
This is part of our call as Christians: to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. May you and I consider true ways in which we can follow that challenging, risky yet most excellent way.