A Christian Response to Park 51

I’d like to cautiously dip a toe into the controversial waters of Park 51 (formerly known as Cordoba House), the planned Islamic community center near the World Trade Center site in Manhattan.  Not surprisingly, this has become an incredibly polarizing debate with politicking and posturing on all sides.  At issue is whether it is appropriate for the center to be built near the site where so many lost their lives to Islamic terrorists.

There are important questions this debate raises about the nature of living within a pluralistic society.  My own question is either much simpler or significantly more complex, I can’t decide which: How does faith in Christ frame one’s response to the issues raised by Park 51?

I’m curious how you answer this question.  [Those of you who are not Christian, how does your faith or guiding principles inform these issues?]  Here are a few thoughts that have been rattling around my head.

In Christ we have our example to interact with individuals while avoiding stereotypes that implicate entire groups of people.  Those of us with an evangelical bent are especially quick to focus on the way God’s grace is granted to individuals.  Discussions amongst Christians about Park 51 should avoid any generalizations about Islam or this community center that originate from the terrorism committed on September 11.

We who believe that God cares deeply for us have no reason to allow fear to become the dominate narrative in our lives.  There is no question about the presence of evil in our world but we have lost the plot any time fear becomes the starting point for our conversations and decisions.

The Christian’s posture towards enemies is one of active love.  While most of us wouldn’t consider the Muslims behind Park 51 our enemies, the culture we inhabit would play us against each other in this way.  Enmity aside, the Christian is called to demonstrate hospitality towards those who don’t share our beliefs.

Gospel witness to the resurrected Christ is accomplished through proclamation and a life of sacrifice and, at times, suffering.  In the New Testament we see those outside the church being told about what God accomplished through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Any harsh and confrontational language is generally reserved for those within the church whose lives distract from the Gospel.  What, I wonder, have American Muslims learned about the Gospel of Jesus during the Park 51 debate?

Lastly, those who mourn and suffer are always treated by Jesus with dignity and care.  We who follow Jesus’ narrow way must do the same.  Whatever one thinks of the proposed community center, a Christian response must allow room for the grief that followed the terrorist attacks on September 11.

How about you? How do your Christian convictions inform such a complicated situation?  I look forward to your charitable comments.


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David Swanson
David Swanson is the pastor of New Community Covenant Church [Bronzeville] on Chicago's South Side. He blogs often and has authored countless articles for prominent Christian publications.