It seems that everyone is still talking about Terry Jones, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Islam, Christianity, Q’uran burning, Obama and terrorism.
In the last week I held four separate conversations on the topic and all you have to type on Google is “ima” before “Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf” comes up or just put in “pastor” and they suspect you are looking up Terry Jones from Gainesville.
One of the most significant discussions that I had this last week was with my intelligent wife, Elizabeth.
There are others sharing how this really is a comment on the media’s desire for grandiose and shocking stories, or it’s actually a happy story where Jews, Christians, Muslims and people of all faiths condemned the actions of Terry Jones and his little band of followers. These are fair reactions, and worth a read at CNN.
These are all fine contributions and worth a read.
What intrigues me are the issues of religious freedom, religious conflict, justice and free speech at stake in this story of pastors, Q’urans, holy sites and imams.
First, religious freedom and free speech.
The U.S. Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
In these 45 words the founders of the United States made it possible for millions of us to share billions of words on trillions of topics. These words allow me and you to do what we are doing right now; engaging in the free exchange of ideas across a netscape based on the principals described within the First Amendment.
These words allow for churches, Islamic centers, synagogues, temples, societies and the like to establish themselves across the landscape of the United States and, permitting they do not bring outright harm to another individual, continue to preach whatever they want to preach and believe whatever they want to believe.
Now, granted, there are some religious and quasi-religious movements that take these rights for granted and engage in unsolicited hate speech and actions against others they deem inferior or unnecessary. There is great precedent for action against such organizations that impinge on the rights of others.
Some would say that Terry Jones and his merry band of Muslim-haters would fit right into that extremist mold and therefore the government is fully justified in stepping in and shutting them down.
Yet, they didn’t. Well, at least, not really.
Robert Gates called, yes. Obama pleaded that the burning not take place, yes. However, the local authorities in Gainesville were tied to a post in terms of taking legal action, spare shutting down a book burning without the proper fire code permits.
Because under the U.S. Constitution we are allowed to burn books we do not like. That does not constitute an impingement of anyone’s rights. Just as the Supreme Court upheld in 1989 that as disagreeable an act as it may be, burning the flag is a symbolic act of free expression and is protected by the First Amendment so too is book burning.
Less than a decade ago a group of Christians in Alamogordo, NM gathered to burn J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” books along with Star Wars DVDs and books. Although they were not permitted to burn the books because it was deemed a fire-hazard by county authorities, they changed tack and went about conducting a book-cutting. Although it enraged a myriad of Potter fans and wannabe Jedis it a) was not against the law of the U.S.A. and b) did not garner such national attention as Terry Jones’ publicity stunt.
When one freedom comes into conflict with another freedom, we get fireworks. Fourth-of-July-like fireworks.
While some in New Zealand may consider being a Jedi an official religion, the world over agrees that Islam is a dominant face of religions that make up the world stage. Islam, fundamentalist, extremist, Sunni, Shi’a, Sufi, moderate or mystical is a force to be reckoned with as it shapes culture, politics and the future.
Thus, the conflict.
As Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf made plans to build an Islamic center close to Ground Zero he kick-started what is now an international fracas over religion, rights and radicalism.
Because his, and his followers’, freedom to build their Islamic center in any place where they have purchased, rented or legally procured met up against another religion here in the U.S. – American patriotism.
The blood boiling over the Islamic center’s placement near Ground Zero is the same type as that bubbling about flag burning as well. People get downright angry when it comes to defacing what they view as symbols of America and its omnipotence.
Granted, there is an air of understanding here. People love America. For many, the U.S.A. has given them the world. They would die for their country and in their own way, see an Islamic center near Ground Zero or an American flag being burnt as an offense equal to what it is to burn a Q’uran in the face of a Muslim.
Thus, they rail against the freedoms of others to build such an Islamic center or burn an American flag; just like Muslims cry out concerning Q’uran burning and their right to build an Islamic center wherever they like to.
The same freedoms are at stake. And yet, for one side public opinion is favorable, and to the other public opinion is downright nasty.
Terry Jones was condemned left and right for his proposed actions. Imam Abdul Rauf is garnering more and more support from people of many religious backgrounds throughout the U.S.A. and the world.
What my wife pointed out is that the same rights are at stake and yet in the midst of this conflict nobody mentioned Terry Jones’ rights. Likewise, not too many people (spare my insightful wife) saw how what Imam Abdul Rauf is doing is tantamount to Q’uran burning for faithful American patriot-zealots.
I am all for religious freedom.
I am all for justice and peace.
I am not one for conflict.
I do not approve of Terry Jones’ proposed actions.
But now, I am questioning my previously liberal position on the Imam and the Islamic center. In my view, this man is stepping on incendiary ground and should step away before anyone gets burned. Terry Jones received international pressure to back off because lives could be lost following a book burning. As Elizabeth noted, people could also be beaten, injured or killed if this Islamic center gets built.
In the end, the Imam should be counseled to temper his freedom with an appropriate amount of justice in order to avoid unnecessary conflict. That is, if he wants the peace he claims the mosque is all about (read it here).
In fact, we all must.
Our freedoms are our freedoms. No doubt about it.
However, if peace (and for my Christian brothers and sisters, the Shalom of Christ and his kingdom in all hearts) is our end goal then we must, at times, restrict our freedoms for the sake others and their rights.
I know, because I often stumble here.
May we all hear and heed the words of St. Paul as he writes to people like the Galatians, the Corinthians and us:
“For you were called to freedom, my brothers and sisters. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity to gratify your own desires, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed as well.” (Galatians 5:13-15)
“Take care that your freedom does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak…sinning against your brothers and sisters and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ…Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you the workmanship of the Lord?….Nevertheless, we have not made use of our freedom, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 8: 9, 12; 9:1, 12b)