The arguments seems to come down to "religious freedom" - the foundational, constitutional right, in this country, to practice your religious beliefs - vs. "insensitivity" - the complaint that, since almost 3,000 people at the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center were killed by Muslims in the name of their religious beliefs, Park51 is a painful, "insensitive" insult to the survivors of those who perished. (Some of whom, of course, were, themselves, Muslim.)
I'm not going to rehash the arguments about this. Most of the readers of this blog know how I feel. I know how most of you feel. We'll only just pat each other on the back and move on.
Those who disagree will write me anonymous comments, making outrageous claims about my "insensitivity" or "hypocrisy" or "intolerance" which I won't publish because they are (1) ad hominem attacks and (2) patently banal and vapid.
I am a great fan but not a great student of history. Although I always find it fascinating and helpful, I have trouble storing all that information in my progressively addled brain.
So, when I saw the following Brief History of American Religious Intolerance in the August 30 edition of TIME magazine, it sparked some thinking for me.
It looks like this:
1654 Peter Stuyvesant, director general of New Netherland, tries to have Jewish Refugees expelled, claiming they would "infect" the colony.It's pretty sobering, isn't it?
1732 Founders of the Georgia colony, which is seen as a religious haven, draw up a charter that explicitly bans Catholicism.
1844 Mormon founder Joseph Smith is murdered in an Illinois prison by a lynch mob. Soon after, many of his followers migrate to Utah.
1854-56 Nativists form the Know-Nothing Party, which calls for strict limits on immigration, especially from Catholic countries.
1866 Riots erupt during Reconstruction, and African-American churches are burned in Memphis and New Orleans.
1882 Strong anti-Chinese sentiment in California leads to the federal Chinese Exclusion Act which suspends immigration of Chinese laborers.
1883 Department of the Interior declares many Native American rituals to be "offenses" punishable by prison sentences of up to 30 years.
1915 The Ku Klux Klan re-emerges on a national level to preach anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism; it amasses more than 4 million members.
1928 New York's Catholic governor Al Smith loses the presidential election to Hoover in a landslide; a Catholic President won't be elected until JFK in 1960.
1938 On November 20, Father Charles Coughlin, a Catholic priest, delivers an anti-Semitic radio address in which he defends Nazi violence.
1942 FDR signs an Executive Order establishing "exclusion zones," which leads to the internment of some 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans.
1970s Middle-class youths join religious groups such as the Unification Church, the Children of God and the Hare Krishna, spawning fear of cults.
Religious intolerance is always sobering in its shocking, stunning Evil, whenever it rears its ugly head.
With the exception of Fred Phelps and the occasional emergence of a chapter of the Klu Klux Klan requesting a parade permit, I suspect part of the impact this list had on me is that we've gone more than thirty years without a major, significant incident of religious intolerance.
Our country has been more absorbed in racism than religious intolerance. I'm thinking, however, that the current wave of Islamophobia we are experiencing over the proposed Park51 Center is a thread in the same fabric.
The fact that we have our first Black President whose name happens to be Barack Hussein Obama is no coincidence. Franklin (Billy's son) Graham's recent comment that Mr. Obama's "problem" was that he was “born a Muslim” because the religion’s “seed” is passed from the father is a prime example. Here's what he said, in context:
“The seed is passed through the father,” Graham said. “He was born a Muslim. His father was a Muslim; the seed of Muslim is passed through the father like the seed of Judaism is passed through the mother. He was born a Muslim; his father gave him an Islamic name.”Yeah, right. Mr. Obama's father was, of course, African. His mother was Caucasian.
Graham, the son of evangelist Billy Graham, acknowledged that Obama has said he is a Christian.
"He has renounced Islam, and he has accepted Jesus," Graham said. “That's what he has said he has done. I cannot say that he hasn't, so I just have to believe the president is what he has said.”
“But the confusion is because his father is a Muslim; he was born a Muslim. The Islamic world sees the president as one of theirs. That's why Qadhafi calls him his son. They see him as a Muslim,” he added. “But, of course, the president says he is a Christian, and we just have to accept it as that.”
If you believe that Mr. Graham believes that Mr. Obama is a "real" Christian, I've got a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn. He can't be a "real" anything in they eyes of people like Mr. Graham because of his father's "seed".
It's pretty clear to me that statement stands as a manifestation of our xenophobia and racism, hiding this time, under a pulpit gown and behind a cross.
There, I said it.
Now, the vast army of cowardly "Anonymouses" out there will write and say that, when "people like you" don't have a "real" argument" we "always play the race card."
Well, my darlings, if the shoe fits . . . .
The problem with the Racism Shoe is that it always hurts the ones you are trying to force into being shackled by it, and it invariably pinches when someone puts it back on your foot.
The only "exclusion zone" - to use FDRs euphemism - this country needs is the one for intolerance based on race, religion, creed, national origin, gender, age, sexual orientation, class status, educational background, or physical, emotional or intellectual ability.
No, this is not a Rodney King plea asking that "we all just get along".
It's deeper than that.
I'm asking us all to grow up.
At some point in our growth and development we mature and come to the realization that we can't all have our own way, even if/when we think it's the best way.
I'm asking those of us who are Christian to heed the prayer that was said at our baptism and "grow into the full stature of Christ."
I'm asking that we follow the vows made at our Baptism and confirmed when we were of age to speak for ourselves to "seek and serve Christ in all persons" and "respect the dignity of every human being."
As Christians, we are all invited, by the free gift of Grace, to feast at the Table of the Lord. But, Jesus says we are not only invited and welcomed, we must invite and welcome others. Without stipulation.
As freely as we were invited, so must we invite others. In so doing, we are reminded by St. Paul, we may entertain angels unaware.
History gives us a good perspective - especially about what can happen when fear and hysteria rule the day - but I think the lens of the gospel is the perspective needed when looking at the situation at Park51.
Love is not exclusive. Love is expansive.
And, as St. Paul reminds us, perfect love casts out fear.
French mathematician and philosopher, Blaise Pascal once wrote: "The heart has reasons which Reason cannot understand."
This is the reason for Park51. Nothing more. Nothing less.