In 2010, September 11 fell on the festival of Eid-ul-fitr, the festival at the end of Ramadan, and many in the Muslim and interfaith community were concerned that the joyous celebration would be misunderstood as a celebration commemorating 9-11. At the same time, a pastor in Gainesville, Florida was threatening to hold a Qur’an burning, and thousands were vehemently protesting the building of an Islamic community center new ground zero in New York City. The United Methodist Church in Davis hosted a service of solidarity on 9-11, and the following is the speech I gave at that event.
We Are the Stories We Tell
Thankfully, the pastor of a small church in Florida has called off his vile plan to burn Qur’ans today. Also, thankfully, the international outcry as the media cycle on this proposed action spun out of control was loud and forceful, but it is deeply concerning that there was enough support for this terribly offensive event that the pastor felt justified for weeks and days in his ongoing intent for the immolation of the holiest of books in Islam. As a Christian, this intolerance and disrespect by a pastor and his church shames and saddens me. Not only is this not a reflection of the love of neighbor that Jesus taught, it is violent, hateful and wrong.
It is my understanding that for Muslims, the Qur’an is less like the Christian Bible than it is like our understanding of Jesus Christ himself. By this, I mean that the Qur’an is more like incarnation than it is like a collection of history, teachings and scripture; it is the living word of God as incarnated through Mohammed, peace be upon him, the messenger, just like Jesus is for Christians the Word who was with God and was God and is God(John 1:1). For Christians, it would be abhorrent to countenance the burning of the Holy Bible, but this Qur’an burning is really more akin to the burning of Christ, a twenty-first century trial and condemnation by an ignorant and unjust jury, and an attempt at annihilation of a way of life, a way of being faithful and a way of knowing God. In this instance, the proposed site was a church in Gainesville as opposed to a cross in Golgotha, but the spiritual impact would have been similarly deeply felt.
We are all here today because we do not want to see the mistakes or hateful acts of the past repeated. I thank you for being here today. While the tragic events of 9-11 caused untold damage and are beyond regrettable, we have at least, seen countless examples since that time of Christians and Muslims, Muslims and Jews, neighbors from the diversity of faith found in America, coming together in new and profound ways to counter the hate exemplified in the attacks. The Multifaith Living Community at the Cal Aggie Christian Association is one such example. In the fall of 2000, the board approved the pursuit of a vision to build student housing on our property. After 9-11 that vision became clearer as we saw the possibility of making that student community an intentionally multifaith place to respond to the hurt and misunderstanding engendered by 9-11. And the blessing and interreligious understanding that has come out of that community has been tremendous.
And so let us all be in prayer today that we can continue to reframe who we are as people of faith in this country. The world is watching as some of our fellow country persons succumb to their fear and protest the building of an Islamic Center at Park 51, two blocks away from ground zero, and it is watching as we find ways to stand together in unity, and to serve to bring about peace, healing and justice. In the weeks to come, let us provide a hundred, a thousand stories that might be picked up by the media and become the talk of the international community that show people of faith expressing love and hope, stories that show the power of building up instead of tearing down. And let each of us, in our own daily lives, tell those stories as opposed to the ones that further fear and brokenness. We are the stories we tell, and we will decide a hopeful or hateful future based on the stories we choose. Again, thanks to each of you for being here today and I look forward to our common future together as people of faith.