“Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question: Should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here."
-Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York
Christian tradition tells us that one day, Jesus went into the region of Samaria with his disciples and stopped at a well. His disciples went into a nearby town to get something to eat, but Jesus stayed at the well. Now, Samaria was a region that most Jews liked to avoid. They didn't much care for Samaritans because of their mixed heritage and because they worshipped God a bit differently. But Jesus didn't seem to mind, and so here he was at this well.
After a while around noontime, a woman comes up to the well to draw some water. It was a bit odd for this woman to come to get water in the heat of the day, but here she was. Then, Jesus did something strange: he asked the woman a question. He asked her if she had any water.
The woman was shocked because this man was talking to her. And Jesus kept talking to her and because of this her life was forever changed.
This story, sometimes called the Woman at the Well is one of my favorites stories in all of Scripture. It's a wonderful example of Jesus reaching across the many boundaries of that time to treat this woman with respect. It was nothing short of a miracle for a Jewish man to be talking to a Samaritan woman. Two people, from two different faiths were able to cross what had become a great divide.
The recent controversy surrounding the so-called "Ground Zero mosque" has me wondering if my fellow conservatives are able to reach across a modern religious divide. So far, the results are not encouraging. Leading conservatives such as Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani have come out against building this place of worship because it is two blocks from Ground Zero, where thousands died on September 11, 2001.
Yes, we know that it was Muslim extremists who somehow thought God would be pleased if they rammed planes into buildings. That said 19 people who had a warped sense of their faith should not be considered the standard bearers for a faith of a billion adherents.
This issue has confirmed something that I have suspected for a long time: that there is a growing problem with religious bigotry within conservatism. I hear many conservatives talk about dealing with "radical Islam" and I tend to think that when those words are uttered it means that all of Islam is radical, not just a small portion.
As conservatives, we love to talk about how we tend to adhere to the Constitution and yet this issue has shown our love for that document to be a lie. If we can't respect the very first amendment which guarantees freedom of religion, then I doubt we will respect the rest.
There has been a lot of talk about sacred ground recently. Ground Zero is definitely such a place. The mosque inside of the Cordoba Initiative is also a sacred space for people to commune with their God. As Christians, we see our churches as sacred spaces as well. But sacred ground can occur whenever we learn to see our sisters and brothers of differing faiths as...well, sisters and brothers. It happens when we learn to live with each other and try to respect our differences.
September 11 happened because there were some that didn't want to live with others different from themselves. I think to not allow this mosque to be built would have basically supported their beliefs to divide people, to disrespect others and treat them as less than humans.
It's time for conservatives to not take the bait. We must be willing to say no to those who want to spread death and division. We must be willing to say yes to creating sacred ground in our communities, to welcome those who might not even worship the same god or worship no god at all.
It's time for us to go into our own Samarias, come to the well and meet whoever is there. We might realize we are standing on sacred ground.