Last Friday I had the privilege of appearing on the MacNeil- Lehrer Hour. My segment of the program had a Muslim leader, a liberal church leader who had worked extensively in New York just after 9/11, a secular current affairs blogger, and myself (an evangelical minister). Our exchange was lively but thoughtful. The rest of the panel accused the majority of Americans of religious intolerance to some degree. They saw the threat of Koran burning made by Pastor Terry Jones of Dove Fellowship of Gainsville, Florida as emblematic of a huge national resurgence of anti-Islamic sentiments.
On the other hand, I pointed out that the nation has never fully processed its grief about 9/11 or been told how to conduct itself in the “new” America. I cited the fact that religious leaders have the greatest access to the bulk of the American public. Unfortunately, many of us have not addressed the twin sisters of intolerance (fear and anger) that lurk within the hearts and minds of many of our parishioners. Political correctness has not allowed spiritual leaders to talk straight about their members’ concerns or encourage them to be tolerant of Muslim neighbors’ faith and background. I also was able to declare that tolerance works two ways. A few years ago, my congregation experienced a situation in which several community groups opposed our desire to build in a very exclusive neighborhood. Although we have the right to erect a church on an historic farm, which included the state of Maryland’s oldest beech tree and a slave graveyard; it would not have created an environment for ministry in that community. Therefore, we chose to sell the property to a developer and find another location.
This is exactly what the ground zero mosque folks should do. If they extended an olive branch of peace and tolerance, instead of demanding their rights, they would embody the true American value of forbearance and service. Time did not permit me to explain that in our “new America” people like Malik Nadal Hasan (the alleged Fort Hood Massacre shooter) have greater allegiance to intolerant religious beliefs than they have to our nation’s vision, values, or goals.
I came away from the program feeling compelled to write this piece. I wanted to share some observations that I have gleaned from talking to my clergy friends.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.