I’ve been observing the news with interest the past few days, as several stories are intersecting.
The largest event is the 9th anniversary of the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. I still remember September 11, 2001 very well. I lived in the Mountain Time Zone, and was preparing to leave for work at about 9:00 am. In the 8:00 am hour, I received a phone call from a computer customer, who asked the computer question, and then incidentally asked me if I’d seen the news yet? I turned on the TV and learned what was happening. I drove to work with the radio playing, and became more and more involved with each moment. I remember that day at work being a very slow day. The few customers that came that day were somber. Confusion were abounding with every individual, as all of the comforts and conveniences each enjoyed and expected to indefinitely into the future were now in doubt. That day, and the days following, was a time when each individual turned to self-introspection. They questioned and clung their core religious beliefs, values, and guiding principles. Many who had none sought them out. For a time, we set aside our differences and stood firmly together as Americans.
Nine years later, there is still a hole in the ground where the buildings in New York City once stood. In November 2006 I stood by and witnessed it. I remember the taxi driver being reluctant to take us there, when we answered where we wanted to go. To us, as tourists, it was one more attraction to check off on our list. To him, a native, it was a horrible and traumatizing memory. He almost tried to talk us out of it, saying “You don’t want to see ‘da hole.’” – yet he knew he would not talk us out of it. He had driven too many tourists to that place which he never wanted to see again. I especially sensed that when he offered that he would drop us off one block away, and we could walk over. He even agreed to wait for us there and, when we were done looking at ‘da hole,’ he would take us to our next destination.
Our little group looked it over, and read the plaques and memorials that were setup. It was an accidental plot of sacred ground, in the middle of a bustling city of commerce and excitement. It hadn’t been intended as a sacred resting ground, but in a horrifying instant it was made such by a few who carried extreme religious beliefs.
Which leads to the second big emotionally-charged event currently in the news… the planned Islamic center and mosque to be build about 2 blocks away from Ground Zero. In the 2001 attacks on the Trade Center, a cultural center and mosque 4 blocks away was damaged. The planners chose, rather than incur the expense of repairing that one, to use another piece of property 2 blocks away and renovate it to create a newer, better center. Plans I’ve seen describe this as a Muslim version of the YMCA – having a 900 seat theatre, athletic / recreation facilities, and room for prayer and worship.
They meet the zoning requirements, and the facility would serve many good Muslim Americans who work or live in the area. Many Americans have taken it upon themselves to spout-off an opinion against putting a ‘Mosque’ so close to ‘Ground Zero.’ Although I admit that I may be wrong, I am for them building it.
I belong to a religion commonly known as the Mormons. I think this allows me a unique understanding of how people, in general, are suspicious or fearful of what they don’t understand or believe.
With every religion, including mine, there are some who take extreme positions. In my faith, there used to be a teaching that some men should marry multiple wives at the same time, under specific circumstances and by instruction from God. The mainstream church discontinued that practice about 120 years ago. But there are some who broke away from the main body, and continue to practice that teaching today. They call themselves “Fundaments Mormons,” but they represent an element that is extreme, fringe, and fanatic. Anyone trying to teach or practice that idea is excommunicated from the mainstream church. To me, on the ‘inside’ of the Mormon church, this makes perfect sense and is not an issue. Those outside the church generally group all people who profess to be Mormons into the so-called ‘Mormon Church,’ without any research or further thought. They form an opinion and move on.
I think this same kind of thing has happened with the Muslims and the extremist Muslim believers who acted on September 11. I’ve observed that Muslims are fine people; I’ve been told that the Koran teaches good values, and I know that many people around the world have found satisfaction in following its ways. I have not read the Koran, but I’m certain that if I did, I would find many things to agree with in it, because the evidence is that people that follow it are largely good, honest, people; and many of them are fellow Americans.
Now, I’d hate for someone to hear reports of some extremists who call themselves Mormons going on a terror rampage, and for the entire country to decide that Mormons cannot build anymore churches or temples because of it. And since I can feel that way about the Mormons, I can feel that way about the Muslims too. I am for more places that promote peace, prayer, and fellowship; and I am for them building where they want to build.
Despite the fact that they might be fully in the right, and comply with all local laws, they won’t back down on their location choice. The only motive I see left in their continued attempt to build on this spot is to intentionally cause pain, heartache, anger, and contention in the hearts of other children of God who believe differently than they do. That, in all of my studies, is not something that Christ taught. I doubt it is something that the Koran even teaches. So perhaps in the name of peace, they ought to seriously consider relocating.
That leads me to the Dove World Outreach Center in Florida. This little church of 50 followers identifies itself as a Christian group – yet there are many in the country doubting that they are truly founded on the teachings of Jesus Christ. Their pastor has spoken loudly and arrogantly about publicly burning copies of the Koran, the book of scripture which the Muslims hold sacred. Instead of encouraging his flock to read it, the pastor is encouraging them to torch it.
I can think of nothing good that can possibly come from this. He will teach 50 followers that showing kindness is wrong. He is teaching 50 followers that trying to communicate and understand anyone who believes differently is incorrect. He is projecting an attitude that says ‘I am better than you.’ He also doesn’t seem to mind standing front and center for every microphone and camera that comes nearby.
Again, I draw from my limited understanding and experience to draw some conclusions. My religion also believes in a book, which the rest of the world does not openly and whole-heartedly accept. I know that many times in the past 180 years, copies of The Book of Mormon have been destroyed in a vindictive manor – usually by those who have not read it and refuse to try to understand it. I expect it will happen many more times in the future. I’m disappointed, but it doesn’t bother me too much beyond that because the book is made of paper and ink. Its contents can be replaced, and its message is still the same.
The Muslims, however, believe something a little deeper. I’ve been told that they don’t believe a copy of the Koran is simply paper and ink bound together, but that once the message of the Koran is printed on that paper, the book becomes a holy and sacred object. The destruction of that book becomes a tragedy. I remember a news report many years ago about Taco Bell switching to 100% recycled napkins, and Muslims being concerned that a Koran may have been recycled, and become part of a napkin, and now someone is wiping ‘Fire’ sauce from their face with the sacred pages of scripture. I remember it being a very big concern at the time. They take the sacredness of the physical manuscript seriously.
Now, if the Dove World Outreach Center is looking to conduct an experiment to find out what happens if you combine paper and fire, I can already tell you the result. The book will burn, there is no question about that. That leaves me to wonder what their true motive is?
Despite the fact that they might be fully in the right, and comply with all local laws, they won’t back down on their activity. The only motive I see left in their continued attempt to burn the Koran is to intentionally cause pain, heartache, anger, and contention in the hearts of other children of God who believe differently than they do. That, in all of my studies, is not something that Christ taught. I doubt it is something that the Koran even teaches. So perhaps in the name of peace, they ought to seriously consider a different action.
Isn’t the dove a symbol of peace anyway? And won’t a world outreach involve extending an olive branch rather than a stick on fire?