[Editor's Note: Lisa Sharon Harper spoke at a candlelight vigil in support of the Cordoba House in New York on September 10. Below is her transcription of the speech.]
I am an evangelical. I jumped the broom with Jesus at a Sunday evening camp church meeting in August, 1983. Two-and-a-half years after deciding to follow Jesus some kids in my small town, just outside of Cape May, New Jersey, started driving up to my family's house every night for two weeks. They yelled at the tops of their lungs, "Niggers! Go back to Africa! We don't want you here!"
We were good neighbors. My dad was the principal of Wildwood high school. My mother was a school nurse. All of us kids were good students and contributed to school life ... but because of the color of our skin, some in our community decided they didn't have to be good neighbors to us.
I am here because I am an evangelical. I love Jesus. I love scripture.
Jesus had an encounter in scripture. A lawyer approached him and asked a profound question, "How do I inherit eternal life?"
Jesus answered, "What did you learn in Saturday school?"
"Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength," said the lawyer, "and love your neighbor as yourself."
"Do this and you will do well," Jesus said.
Then the lawyer asked, "Who is my neighbor?" He was trying to figure out who he didn't need to love.
So, Jesus told him a story. A story about a Samaritan. Have you ever heard of the Good Samaritan? Yeah, they have hospitals named after the Good Samaritan now.
Well, there was a Jewish man who had been stripped naked, beaten, bloody, and was laying in the middle of the road dying. The religious leaders of the day walked right by him, but the Samaritan -- that Jewish man's ethnic and religious enemy -- stopped and helped him. He took him to an inn, dressed his wounds. He had to go, but he gave the innkeeper 300 denarii (that's almost a year's wages) to cover any costs incurred while he's gone. And he said, "I'll be back and will pay any further costs incurred while I'm gone."
Jesus asked the lawyer, "Which one was a neighbor?"
The lawyer answered: "The Samaritan."
"Go and do likewise!" Jesus flipped the script! Jesus said, "You want to inherit eternal life? The question is not who is your neighbor! The question is whether you will be a neighbor! Love everyone! Love without limits! Love extravagantly! Then you will inherit eternal life!"
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and the Park51 community, you have been beautiful neighbors. I stand here tonight, an evangelical, and I know that many of us have not loved you back. I have been in conversation with many of my evangelical colleagues across the country over the past few days. They have asked me to stand here and say: "Forgive us." Please forgive us. In our hostility and in our silence, we have not been good neighbors.
[There was a hush over the crowd.]
And on behalf of New York Faith and Justice (many of our leaders and founders are evangelical) I stand here tonight and I say: "WELCOME, CORDOBA HOUSE! We can't wait to be good neighbors to you!"
[Crowd exploded in applause and cries of solidarity.]
Say it with me, "Welcome, Cordoba House!"
Crowd: Welcome, Cordoba House!
Me: Welcome, Park51!
Crowd: Welcome, Park51!
Me: We are all New Yorkers!
Crowd: We are all New Yorkers!
Me: We are all Americans!
Crowd: We are all Americans!
Me: We are all made in the image of God!
Crowd: We are all made in the image of God!
Me: And as such, we are all deserving of the respect that is due to one made in the image of God.
Lisa Sharon Harper is the executive director of New York Faith & Justice and author of Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican ... or Democrat.