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Archive for August, 2010

When the controversy first surfaced about the “Ground Zero” mosque, I was of the basic opinion that it should have the legal right to be built there, and that the groups protesting it were making the situation worse; however, I thought it would probably be best for them to move to a different location. However, as the situation as progressed, my opinion on the issue has changed for a number of different reasons: the importance of not letting misinformation and mistruths influence decisions, the position and ideas of the Imam who wants the community center built, not giving into hatred and anger, and finally what it would mean for Christian/Islamic relations worldwide.

First of all, we have seen how this whole situation has been portrayed with a lot of half-truths or straight out lies. The whole name “Ground Zero Mosque” is misleading as it is really more of a community center and is not even visible from Ground Zero. There have also been a lot of lies about how this is going to be used by radical Islam and how the people building the center support terrorism, which is simply untrue. We have seen how lies from the media can cause harmful decisions to be made (the latest situation with Sharron Sherrod and Fox News is a good example) and this sets a dangerous precedent. If we allow outlets like Fox News to make significant social changes by pushing out lies and half-truths, we will be encouraging them to do more of the same.

Secondly, the Imam who wants to build the community center has been an outspoken supporter of peace and an opponent of terrorism and extremism. He is part of the Sufi sect of Islam, which is the more meditative branch of Islam. In fact, his sect (which has traditionally always been the most peaceful) has actually been attacked, and individuals were killed by members of radical Islam. He is actually building the center to have a place for people to go, especially young people, in New York. If the building was being built by a radical fundamentalist I would be much more skeptical, but when it is being built by a Sufi who is trying to lead the followers of his religion away from extremism it is a different story.

Another important reason I have changed my opinion on this issue is because of the danger of giving into fear, anger, and even hatred. If this community center is not allowed to be built, than people will think that if they can be angry and hateful enough they can stop any other legal project (political or religious) which they are opposed to. We cannot let our Democracy and freedoms be denied because there are enough uniformed and angry people yelling. That is not a democracy; that is anarchy. It sets a horrible precedent that could have long-term effects.

Finally, this mosque being moved because of all the misinformation and anger would be terrible for Islamic/Christian relationships around the world. It has already been reported that Al-Qaida is using this event in their own recruitment. It would signal to the rest of the world that there is still some type of “Holy War” between Islam and Christianity. While there are serious differences and goals between the religions, this type of conflict does not do any good for anyone and gives people the impression of hatred, intolerance, and unfairness. On the other hand, this could be a chance of forgiveness and a mutual understanding between Islamic and Christian groups both in the nation and around the world. The people who are building the community center had nothing to do with 9/11, and they should have every right and support to build their own center of religion. As a Christian who believes strongly in the freedom of religion and expression, which the United States is founded on, there can be no other option to support the rights of these individuals.

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This past weekend was the anniversary of Dr. King’s famous, “I Have a Dream Speech”. People like to quote Dr. King on his stances on racial relations, but it seems that his dream for economic justice has been lost in history. It has been so obscured that people who hate Obama for his “Socialism” count Martin Luther King as a hero. Of course, these people are skipping over a large section of Dr. King’s life and legacy. It has gone as far as Glenn Beck saying that he is carrying on Martin Luther King’s dream. Here are a couple of things that Dr. King stood for that many people may not be aware of.

1. Slashing military spending to help with more social programs- He is quoted as saying, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” Dr. King was certainly not shy on his beliefs against the Vietnam War and the overall military spending. He not only saw the program from a war/peace perspective, he realized with high military spending, less money can be put into social programs and towards creating a more economically just society.

2. The extreme limitations of the capitalistic system- “The profit motive, when it is the sole basis of an economic system, encourages a cutthroat competition and selfish ambition that inspires men to be more concerned about making a living than making a life.”- Dr. King understood that the current capitalistic system has some serious limitations and problems that needed to be regulated in some way. He also understood the personal and spiritual danger that the profit motive can cause on a society if it is not tempered.

3. The unjust disparity between the rich and poor- “The dispossessed of this nation — the poor, both white and Negro — live in a cruelly unjust society. They must organize a revolution against that injustice, not against the lives of the persons who are their fellow citizens, but against the structures through which the society is refusing to take means which have been called for, and which are at hand, to lift the load of poverty.” Dr. King did not make excuses or justifications for the disparity, nor did he simply ignore the situation; rather he called what it was. In a time, where the disparity in the nation is the greatest it has been since the 1920’s-perhaps his words should carry special significance.

4. How true religion has to be concerned with justice and the needs of the poor- “Any religion which professes to be concerned with the souls of men and is not concerned with the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them, is a dry-as-dust religion.”- He understood that a religion is of little good if it does not deal with the real issues that people are facing on a day to day level. Worse, religion can simply become a tool of oppression and justification of the status quo. While he did believe deeply in his Christian faith; he did not want his faith to only be applicable to the ever after, but the here and now.

 5. Our own responsibility for the poverty in the third world- “We in the West must bear in mind that the poor countries are poor primarily because we have exploited them through political or economic colonialism…..We must use our vast resources of wealth to aid the undeveloped countries of the world. Have we spent far too much of our national budget in establishing military bases around the world and far too little in establishing bases of genuine concern and understanding?” He realized that the United States has a very important responsibility as the richest nation and a nation that has often become rich off the backs of the world’s poor to be helping out the most economically vulnerable in the rest of the world.

 6. Why personal charity is not enough, but structural change is also needed-“Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.” He understood that without true changes and more justice in the economic system, philanthropy would only be scratching the surface of a much more difficult and serious issue.

Perhaps, we can look towards Dr. King’s message today and realize that racial justice was not the end of his fight-he wanted a more economically just country and world. Hopefully, our vision will not only extend solely toward racial healing and tolerance, but instead will encompass the sticky economic realities which are of utter importance to the majority of the world’s population.

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The nation has always been divided on politics; however, recently the divide has become so deep that it is hard for many to believe that people of the opposite political party could actually be a member of the same faith. Such is this case with much of the American population simply refusing to accept Obama’s Christian faith. Perhaps, it is because he has the first name of Barack, because his father was of a different faith, a purposeful misleading of the right-wing media, because he is a “liberal”, or simple racism- but over 30% of Republicans still believe that Obama is Islamic and a higher percentage don’t believe he is a Christian.  

While both sides can be judgmental on this front- it has been clear that the right holds most of the blame. I did not see near such a high percentage of people on the left doubting Bush’s faith. It is deeply disturbing and shows that we are really failing to live out the teaching of Jesus of refusing to judge others (especially deeply questioning their faith because we don’t like their political beliefs). It is also starting to drive an even deeper wedge in the American church, between left and right, which naturally causes further racial division.

As much as dislike Sarah Palin or Mike Huckabee’s views, I do not doubt that they are sincere in their faith. For me to stand in judgment against them and state that they can’t be true Christians because I do not agree with their social and political beliefs would be horrible. However, this seems to have become common place for the right to do with more left leaning individuals-most notably, Barack Obama.

However, the ultimate loser in this type of judgment is the church of Jesus. While we stand by in doubt of other’s faith, we are showing the world a very dark and sinister side of the church. If we devour our own because of different political and social beliefs, how could we ever hope to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth? In conclusion- those who stand in by in judgment against Obama or other individuals because they don’t like their social and political beliefs are showing a lot more about their own pride and personal state than they are of the person they are judging. Maybe it is time to start worrying about taking the speck out of our “enemies” eye and realize that there is a huge forest in ours.

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Imagine if Jesus were here today. What would he be doing? Would he be joining protestors in New York City against the building of a mosque? Would he be out crusading against Islam? The life and message of Jesus reflected that he wouldn’t be. In the end, the message of Jesus is not about a competition between religions in society, it is about the values of the Kingdom of God, forgiveness, salvation, and personal transformation.

Jesus lived at a time in History where people were very skeptical and angered at another “foreign” religion of the day- the Roman Religion- which placed Caesar as a God, worshiped many different deities, and denied Jehovah as Lord. However, you rarely see Jesus talking about or “fighting” against the other religion. Rather, he was more concerned about purifying and transforming the current religious tradition of the people in Israel. He knew that in the fight against a “foreign” faith, there is a great danger that your own faith loses its way, purpose, and direction.

In the end, he wanted people to know that it was not their responsibility to make sure that the balance stayed the same between their faith and foreign faiths or that they were winning the “competition” in the nation. He was less concerned about the number of people who “prescribed” to the Christian faith than he was that his true followers were truly committed to him and his Kingdom.

When Christians are out protesting and “fighting” other religions, they are the ones that end up looking bad, disrespectful, and even shameful. The true message and heart of Jesus is marred, and it reflects poorly on the majority of the Christian community. We must not trade the message of the Kingdom for a fight between religions. In doing so, we may win some battles, but we will lose the overall “war”. In this time in our History, let’s look inward and fight for our own transformation as individuals and allow that passion, grace, and hope to spill out and change the world- and that through that the love Jesus will be absorbed and received by all.

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I always found Glenn Beck a little bit scary; however, after his latest comments he seems to be approaching the cultish. About his upcoming event “Restoring Honor” he proclaims, “the Spirit of the Lord is going to be unleashed like I think you’ve never felt it before.” I don’t claim to know the mind of God, but somehow it seems that Glenn has a little bit of a complex about his own importance.

How do demagogues like Glenn Beck become sources of spiritual advice in the first place? Are we so blinded by politics that we are willing to follow the “spiritual” lead of anyone who fits our political views. Glenn Beck has tried to basically turn the teachings of Jesus away from any real focus on justice, by painting this as Communism or Nazism. He has also tried to paint progressive Christians like Jim Wallis and the late Dorothy Day as time type of evil force on society. His most extreme statements come in the form of telling people to run far away from any church that preaches social or economic justice. While historically the Christian choice wouldn’t be taking advice for someone from the Mormon faith, it unfortunately seems that people have let go of that restriction because of Beck’s adherence to right wing views.

It scares me to death that people might be getting their views on the life of Jesus from someone like Glenn Beck. If his spiritual views are anything like his political or historical views, they are filled with a lot of conspiracy and half truths, but little validity. If Glenn wants to turn the teachings of Jesus into a very personalized gospel which upholds capitalistic ideals and cares little for societal justice, he is free to do that. However, I hope the U.S. church can be wise enough not to fall into his way of thinking. I do pray for the Spirit of the Lord to fall on this land; however, the Spirit is not just for white upper class conservatives, it is for people of all ethnic groups, economic backgrounds, and political ideologies, and true revival will not be seen through a return to capitalistic values and making the nation into a “Christian” land once again, it will be through loving our neighbor, seeking justice for the poor and needy, and learning to let go of our own greed, racism, and hate.

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Right now, I am teaching about Columbus in my U.S. History Class. We are discussing the difference between the true story of Columbus (one filled with slavery, murder, and oppression)and the heroified version that he has often been presented as in both U.S. History and Latin American History overall. Columbus is somewhat of an extreme example; however, the problem of heroification does not stop with such a clear contradiction like Columbus, but extends to many other historical heroes as well.

If you are a conservative than Ronald Reagan is probably one of your heroes. However, in the midst of applauding  his famous speech at the Berlin Wall and his strong leadership, people may overlook the direct dishonesty of the Iran-Contra Scandal, how he brought the U.S. into a huge deficit, and his support of very undemocratic regimes in Latin America. On the other hand, liberals may have a tendency to make a hero out of someone like FDR. While FDR did do some great things in the nation and helped many Americans during the time of Great Depression, we cannot forget about the Japanese internment camps or his attempts to undermine the separation of powers by trying to add seats to the Supreme Court. It is important that we don’t even deify men like Gandhi or Martin Luther King. While they were amazing men, and their non-violence resistance should be applauded by all, we have to remember the shortcomings of Gandhi in his relationship with his own wife and Dr. King’s adulterous actions.

Why is heroifying leaders so dangerous? For one, it does not give us a true view of history. Making Columbus a hero mocks the plight of the Native Americans who were enslaved and killed under his rule. Making Reagan or Roosevelt blameless undermines the stories of the people that were hurt by their administration’s decisions. Understanding the faults of our heroes, even great men like Martin Luther King, is extremely important. We realize that all are human and that we all put up a façade at times. When we make these men out to be saints, we put them on a different plane than us; therefore, undermining our own potential to do great things. When anyone talks about the greatness of anyone, it always needs to be taken with a grain salt. There are great examples we can look up to, but let’s not fall into the trap of heroifying people whether they are like Columbus and don’t deserve the honor at all, FDR and Reagan which deserve praise to an extent, or are like Gandhi and Dr. King which we can learn extraordinary things from without deifying them as individuals. In the end, the great heroes are people like us- a mixture of right and wrong, good and evil.

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This week, the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian people will meet in Washington with the hope of working out a peace agreement. Automatically, there is a lot of skepticism. Haven’t they been trying to find peace for years? “There will never be peace there.”

However, before we fall into this type of skepticism, perhaps it is important to remember a couple of things. For hundreds of years, people wondered if France and England would ever find peace. Today, most people forget that the two countries were even enemies. In fact, most of Europe was at war one time or another; today they are part of a common union. In more recent times, we can see enemies find peace in situations where people thought there would never be. Peace between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland was once thought of as impossible; though there is still tension today, great strides have been made towards peace. Even in Israel, peace has been achieved between nations such as Egypt and Jordan, where there was previously conflict and war.

There are doubters on both sides of the issue. On the one side, there is the Muslim World which on the whole is very skeptical of Israel and their intentions. Many do not like the idea of an Israeli state at all. On the other hand, in the Western World are many conservative Christians who do not believe that peace in Israel can be a reality because of a misunderstood view of the Book of Revelation and the end times. Many also have a fear of Israel giving away any of their land or the existence of a Palestinian state. Both views are hindrances in the way of a real movement towards peace. Let’s hope and believe that in despite of all the History, anger, and doubt that peace can be a reality in Israel. Let’s pray that peace on Earth would be seen in a special way in the Holy Land during this time in History. Peace is possible, but it will take hope, prayer, dedication, and hard work to make it a reality. Most of all, it will take us truly believing that peace is possible.

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