To be perfectly honest with you, the raging debate over the zoning issue in Manhattan regarding the mosque and activity center a few blocks from the site of the terrorist attacks 9 years ago has really not interested me. I tend to avoid most news, because it just depresses and frustrates me. Thank the Lord, we do not have cable, so I am not subjected to 24-hour news coverage of everything in America that the talking heads think is important (but really isn't). I read Scripture, then look through my local newspaper in the morning, check in on what my friends think is important on their blogs and Facebook, then go about my joyful day, occasionally checking in with NPR for Morning Edition or All Things Considered.
Yesterday, I listened more to Morning Edition than I usually do, since my kids were not in the car and not clamoring to listen to "Deliberate Kids" or "They Might Be Giants." Morning Edition played a clip I remember hearing 9 years ago, and I remember being so grateful and overcome with emotion for the words and the president we had at the helm of our nation following the terrorist attacks.
President Bush said, "I also want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world. We respect your faith. It is practiced freely by many millions of Americans, and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. Its teachings are good and peaceful and those that commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah."
Many Republican - and even Democrat - politicians are using this issue to attack the other side, and President Obama. It's become a terrible mess that I'd just rather tune out.
However, again on Morning Edition, I heard Newt Gingrich (from a program on Fox News) invoke the Nazis in his rant against the mosque. He said, "The Nazis don't have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington. We'd never accept the Japanese putting up a site next to Pearl Harbor. There's no reason for us to accept a mosque next to the World Trade Center."
Normally, I think Newt is a pretty level-headed thinker. I tend to listen to him when he speaks. So this brought me up short. And I started to think about the Nazis and the way they targeted people for their ancestry, their race, their religion, and the essence of what made them different from the Nazis. The Nazis began by limiting freedom, then they escalated their hatred to horrors that still shock the world. I was horrified as I began to wonder which typifies the Nazis more: insensitivity to those hurt by their actions, or the attempt to restrict the freedoms of those they hate?
On January 6, 1946, a pastor by the name of George Neimoller gave a speech before representatives of the Confessing Church in Frankfurt. His words should remind all of us, but especially Christians, of the dangers of limiting religious freedoms in America.
Neimoller said, "They came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for me and by that time no one was left to speak up."
Now, I'm not going to get into the facts of where the mosque is planned to be built, why it's going to be built, or even who is arguing against it or defending it.
I just want us all to take a breath and consider the ramifications of limiting religious freedom in America. If we limit the Muslims in where they can build a house of worship, what's next?
David Ramadan, a member of a group of prominent Muslim Republicans, wisely said, "If 2 blocks is too close, is 4 blocks acceptable? Or 6 blocks? Or 8 blocks? Does our party believe that one can only practice his or her religion in certain places with defined boundaries and away from the disapproving glances of some other citizens?"
As Neimoller warned us 64 years ago, if "they come" for the Muslims, who's next? Will there be anyone left to speak up for the freedom of Christians? Think about it.
Jesus said, "'Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.' This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: 'Love others as well as you love yourself.' These two commands are pegs; everything in God's Law and the Prophets hangs from them." - Matthew 22:37-40 (the Message)