Two days ago, someone vandalized The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro… A Mosque in a town not far from where I live in Nashville, Tennessee. They spray painted the words “Fuck Allah” multiple places, spelled out those same words in bacon, and then covered the door handles in bacon as well. This is not the first time people have vandalized this Mosque and terrorized the people who worship there. Seven years ago, they were the victim of anti-Islamic graffiti, a bomb threat, and arson. While they were trying to build, members of the Murfreesboro community tried to sue to keep them from building the center, and the plaintiff’s lawyer argued that Islam isn’t a real religion, so they couldn’t used religiously zoned land “because these are the same people who flew jets into the World Trade Center on 9/11.” Not exactly “welcoming.” But because of yet another act of violence and hatred, yesterday they had a gathering where members of the community could express their solidarity. And since it’s only about half an hour away, I thought I’d go stand with the folks saying, “We are not okay with this.”
I had never been to the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro before, so I let my phone give me directions… But even with Siri talking to me, I almost missed my turn. I was too busy looking at a Church with a ridiculous amount of big white crosses out front. There is a Church RIGHT NEXT DOOR to the ICM called “Grace Baptist Church.” And their property is covered with just under 40 large crosses. Here is a pic I got from Google Maps:
It certainly doesn’t look like the spot where you are getting ready to turn into a Mosque’s parking lot… But then again, it doesn’t look like your average front yard of a Baptist Church, either. But back to that in a moment…
The gathering was beautiful. There were different leaders from different faith communities who spoke out against the acts of violence and hatred, and everyone was encouraged by the big turnout of people willing to spend their evening showing their solidarity and love for their neighbor. It felt like this sweet, heavenly break from the “Us vs. Them” mentality that makes people call out for walls instead of bridges. I loved it.
After it was finished, I went and briefly talked to Saleh Sbenaty (who is on the board of ICM, and was also the spokesperson for the event), and I asked him this question: “What is your relationship like with the church next door?” He immediately looked disheartened. He said, “Didn’t you notice the 39 crosses as you drove in?” I had just told a friend that I bet those crosses weren’t there before the Muslims moved into the neighborhood. Churches will have ONE big cross… Sometimes THREE big crosses… Almost NEVER will there be 39 big crosses lining the property. I looked into the history of those crosses. Turns out it started as thirteen crosses. Then ten more were added. Now there are 39. The church voted to do it “to make a statement to the Muslims about how we felt about our religion, our Christianity… We wanted them to see the crosses and know how we felt about things.”
Saleh told me that the Mosque has reached out over and over to their Christian neighbor, but they had no interest in getting to know them. He mentioned that when the crosses were being made for the church, they ran short on resources… The Mosque offered to pay for the lumber they needed. The Church refused.
Now, please don’t let this sound like I’m “Christian bashing.” There were ALL KINDS of Christians at the gathering. I’m not Baptist bashing either. There were people from other Baptist congregations in attendance as well. I don’t even want this to sound like I’m bashing the Church who put up all those crosses… Like a bunch of white middle fingers. There are probably all kinds of sweet, kind folks who attend that church… People with worries and fears and stresses and kids who love them just like the rest of us. I’m not trying to dehumanize the people who go to Grace Baptist church. They are certainly human, and worthy of being loved… Just like the rest of us. Here’s what I AM saying: They are getting it wrong.
It’s almost parable-level of self evidence, right? Like I can see a story about some lawyer asking Jesus “What must I do to inherit eternal life/Who is my neighbor?” and Jesus telling him a story about two places of worship… One who didn’t offer to help when people desecrated their neighbor’s Mosque, and another who offered to buy some lumber for even more middle-finger-crosses to be pounded into the ground to make even more of a “statement to the Muslims about how we felt about our religion, our Christianity.” One of these things is like Jesus, and one of them isn’t. “WHICH ONE WAS A NEIGHBOR TO THE OTHER?” Jesus asked. And yet there are SO MANY churches today can’t seem to get this simple parable. This is the offensive genius of the Parable of the Good Samaritan… Sometimes the one you think is getting all the theology wrong is actually the one God is using to teach you how to love… teaching you that the cross is not a middle finger.
So this actually isn’t a story to beat up on the sort of religious communities who preach that America is God’s favorite, and have people who wear things like this to church…
This is actually a story about hope. It is a story about a boy scout troop who got together with some members of the Baha’i faith last night and started scrubbing some walls… like little Holden Caulfields, scrubbing the “Fuck Yous” off the bathroom doors of the world.
It’s a story of hundreds of people–people of differing faiths standing along side people of no faith at all–gathering together around a goodness that transcends the borders of nations, as well as the borders of theology. It’s the story of people trying to convince each other that everything is not garbage… People standing with their neighbors and reminding them that the darkness is no match for the light… People standing together, professing with their lives and agreeing with the truth that, when it comes to loving your neighbor, it is way more powerful… more life-giving… more Christ-like… and more loving to DO the right thing than it is to “believe” the right thing.
Now–Just like Jesus said… “Go and do likewise.”
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“People with worries and fears”….I think that gets to the heart of it. These folks think their faith and their way of life are somehow being threatened, and they react by lashing out at anyone who’s not just like them. As you said, they’re probably nice people. But how strong is their faith, really, if they think it can be harmed by the mere existence of other viewpoints?
I love your parable. It’s perfect. This is one of the best posts you’ve ever written.
Possibly some are motivated from feeling threatened.
But don’t overlook that many “bible-based” Christians, who hold interpretations which admix features of the so-called “New Covenant” with features found in the “Old Covenant”, sincerely believe it their duty to protect the nation they reside in from false belief systems — and they believe Islam is a false belief which leads souls away from Iesus as “Son of God, Lord, God, and Savior” and into eternal damnation. Meaning, some or even many may be doing it out of very strong faith, not weak faith, and out of what they believe is obedience to Iesus, not out of fear and worry for their own way of life on earth.
In otherwords…they may have faith in their interpretations as strong as the faith of those who crash planes into towers and detonate suicide vests have had in their quite different interpretations..
Dear BOESKOOL —
“Now–Just like Jesus said… ‘Go and do likewise.’ ”
Iesus is also claimed to have said, “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world….
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” (Mat 25:31-46).
[The ellipses are important and even pertinent to this Murfreesboro situation, and I omit them only for brevity]
BOESKOOL, you’ve stated it makes no sense to you that “god” could be “good” if that deity will send most of the people that it created into pointless everlasting conscious punishment. Yet, these verses in Mathew, which teach that very punishment, are just as much a part of the same New Testament text from which you quote Luke 10:37.
How is it, therefore, that you accept and promote the prima facie meaning of Luke 10:37 yet reject and dismiss the prima facie meaning of the Mathew passage?
Upon what basis do you decide which parts of the Bible you accept and which you reject? How do you know for sure which is true?
(And, nope, I’m neither a Christian, a Muslim, nor of any supernatural belief or persuasion.)
Who’s to say anyone goes to the eternal fire? Maybe that category is null.
HUH…the point being, that if a person utilizes the “Bible” to support their ethics or values, then can he/she utilize some passages prima facie yet disregard, ignore, or reject other passages prima facie within that same source without being inconsistent if not outright dishonest or even manipulative?
Thank you for this insight fullness, and for standing with our community.
What a great blog! Thank you!
Thank you for being more loving and understanding than I have to date been able to be. About evangelicals. And Baptists. And all my sweet neighbors and relatives and daily associates who are in sync with the cross church folks. Excellent writing, thinking and loving. I will try to do better.
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Excellent commentary on the consequences of hate and bigotry in our country. Our country was founded on religious freedom. Let that freedom continue to ring. We are all God’s children, whether we wear a tacky necktie of a scarf.
The Bible is written by men. Men who had their own biases and motivations. It has been interpreted and re-interpreted by other men, with their biases and motivations. Perhaps now is the time to acknowledge that many church going people are intolerant, racist, insecure, angry and just plain mean. Going to church doesn’t make you anything. I know many “nice” people who do “good deeds” but are intolerant of those different from themselves. No more slack from me. If you think going to church and having a pancake breakfast once a month at an inner city congregation or raising money for an orphanage in a third world country let’s you off the hook for being anti-gay or racist, I’m here to say you’re mistaken. If “do unto others as you would have others do unto you” is not practiced in your church, you may as well hang out in a bowling alley.