Sometimes space is warranted. We need boundaries when relationships are difficult. We set up parameters to protect ourselves, and sometimes extend those barriers and boundaries to people who have nothing to do with the wounds that we have experienced.
This need for space and boundaries has recently been extended to the debate regarding the proposed Muslim community center, Park51, a few blocks from the site of the former World Trade Center.
Few are claiming that those asking to build Park51 are directly responsible for Sept. 11. Instead, some view the proposed community center, which includes a mosque, as an inconsiderate act that seems callous to those who lost loved ones during the terrorist attacks nearly nine years ago. Far more view the proposal as an opportunity to score political points by painting proponents as insensitive to those most affected by Sept. 11.
And concern for the trauma and pain of those most deeply affected by the events of Sept. 11 is critical. Even nearly a decade later, many of the wounds have not healed. The pain of that day will mark and scar many for the rest of their lives.
As we support and pray for the victims of Sept. 11, we must remember that this was not the first act of terror and evil perpetrated on American soil. The forced removal of Native Americans from their land is tragic, and the consequences of this act are still felt generations later by the remnants of Native American tribes. Some churches and Christians played a part in this tragedy. Could not the same logic be applied to prohibit the construction of churches within a few blocks from the Trail of Tears?
Slavery once existed in every American colony, and persisted in the South until the end of the civil war. Few can argue that the legacy of slavery still marks this nation, and that churches and Christians often supported this peculiar institution. Could not descendants of slaves ask for a moratorium of new Caucasian churches near former slave auction sites, plantations, and even the locations of thousands of lynchings?
Obviously most Christians today are deeply saddened by our historic complicity in the forced removal of Native Americans and the enslavement and segregation of African Americans. To ban churches from sites that once perpetuated these evils would be an absurd response to historic tragedies that instead demand confession, repentance, and transformation.
Is not the politicization of a community center that includes a place of worship in lower Manhattan similarly absurd? While terrorism and violence need to be condemned at every turn, intolerance and vilification of the practitioners of other faiths does not strike me as living out the love of Jesus. Somewhere I can hear Jesus saying, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged."
Ultimately, the Christian church should focus our energies on sharing the grace and love and mercy of Jesus, not fighting the construction of buildings and worship centers of other faiths. Hate and revenge are not Christian values. Fear and intolerance are not fruits of the Spirit. Instead, Jesus calls us to love our neighbors, and to even love our enemies. Love doesn't fight mosques. The love of Jesus demands that we love Muslims. Period. For in the end, love wins.
Troy Jackson is senior pastor of University Christian Church in Cincinnati and a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, and earned his PhD in United States history from the University of Kentucky. He is author of Becoming King: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Making of a National Leader (Civil Rights and the Struggle for Black Equality in the Twentieth Century) and a participant in Sojourners' Windchangers grassroots organizing project in Ohio.