Why I support the mosque in Manhattan

Today’s guest blogger is Brian McLaren, who began his career as a college English teacher, and then served for twenty-four … Continued

Today’s guest blogger is Brian McLaren, who began his career as a college English teacher, and then served for twenty-four years as a church planter and pastor in the Washington, DC, area. Now he is a popular blogger and speaker, author (the most recent of his eleven books is A New Kind of Christianity), and activist, especially focusing on the spiritual life and its intersection with the planet, poverty, peace, and pluralism.

I don’t really like proof-texting – pulling a verse out of context to try to prove a point. I’m not even a big fan of the fact that the Bible is divided up into chapters and verses. It wasn’t always that way – our modern schema of chapters and verses is a relatively late addition to the Bible, having evolved since the 13th Century. Chapter-and-versification allows people to kidnap a quote out of its context in a longer narrative and apply it in potentially irresponsible and harmful ways, as if the Bible were a legal constitution and its verses were articles, sections, subsections, and amendments in a legal code.

But I’m about to engage in chapter-and-versing, consciously and intentionally – and with regard to context, because in this case, the ancient text applies powerfully to our own situation in America today. Consider Exodus 23:9:

“Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt.”

The command was originally for the Jewish people. After a famine, they became refugees in Egypt and eventually were enslaved for generations by Pharoah’s regime. But according to the Bible, God isn’t on the side of the oppressors; God sides with the oppressed, and so God liberated them from slavery. God then led them through the wilderness and ultimately provided them a place to live. The oppressed became the blessed.

But being blessed by God gave them no excuse to oppress others, so they were commanded to never forget – never forget what it’s like to be oppressed, so you never become complicit in the oppression of others. The command is repeated often, and even strengthened, as in Leviticus 19:33-34:

When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.

You find a similar strengthening of the command in Deuteronomy (10:19):

[The LORD] defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt.

Lately I’ve been thinking about Exodus 23:9 and its companion verses in relation to the current controversy about a group of Muslim citizens – full American citizens in a democracy, not even aliens! – seeking to build a mosque in Manhattan. Among others, Sarah Palin has called for peace-loving Muslims to “refudiate” the mosque, calling it a provocation and saying that it stabs the hearts of people in the heartland. But I wonder if people in the heartland have forgotten that they are only a few generations away from ancestors who were also immigrants, who came to the United States in many cases to experience freedom of religion.

Shouldn’t it stab the hearts of caring Americans like you and me to imagine forbidding Muslims to experience the same freedom of religion in their new homeland that our own ancestors sought here in the past? Shouldn’t we remember how it feels to be seen as aliens, and shouldn’t we love our Muslim neighbors as ourselves, wanting the same religious freedom for them that we cherish?

That’s why I think it’s valid to bring Exodus 23:9 and its companion verses into the equation at times like these. We Christians – and Jews too – should enthusiastically support Muslims in their desire to build a center devoted to peaceful religion near the site of an atrocity committed in the name of violent religion. We are not called to mistreatment, prejudice, oppression, or even to mere tolerance – we are called to something far higher: to empathy, to generosity, to hospitality, and to love, fueled by empathy and memory. To violate those values should truly stab the heart of all Christians everywhere.

Knowing that Sarah Palin respects the Scriptures, I think if she gives it a second and prayerful thought, she couldn’t help but change her mind.

The content of this blog reflects the views of its author and does not necessarily reflect the views of either Eboo Patel or the Interfaith Youth Core.

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  • Navin1

    “Shouldn’t it stab the hearts of caring Americans like you and me to imagine forbidding Muslims to experience the same freedom of religion in their new homeland that our own ancestors sought here in the past? Shouldn’t we remember how it feels to be seen as aliens, and shouldn’t we love our Muslim neighbors as ourselves, wanting the same religious freedom for them that we cherish?”Rephrase:Shouldn’t it stab the hearts of caring muslims like you to imagine forbidding Hindus to experience the same freedom of religion in their new homeland (mecca, medina, UAE, …) that our own ancestors sought in the past? Shouldn’t we remember how it feels to be seen as aliens, and shouldn’t we love our Hindu neighbors as ourselves, wanting the same religious freedom for them that we cherish?So thanks for supporting the rights of Hindus to worship freely in all muslim nations including Mecca. Please to affirm it loudly in all of your posts.Unless, of course, you were just kidding about principles and simply want to argue for the freedom of muslim aliens and none others. hariaum

  • Athena4

    And my personal favorite: “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” (Ex. 22:18)

  • bpai_99

    This is the Christian States of America, where discrimination by Christians against other faiths is tolerated and even advocated by conservative elected officials. Accept that and get over the delusion that this country treats other faiths equally.

  • arkns

    No more mosques in this country or in other infidel countries until mullah countries reciprocate and allow churches, synagogues, and temples to be built there. I follow the principle of reciprocation. If you want others to respect and love your religion, show through your acts that you love and respect other religions. The first step would be to strike out all offensive references to non-Muslims in the Koran.

  • jm125

    This author and its stupid article give a new meaning to the term pseudo intellectual PC jibberish. Quote Exodus all you want. The reality is muslim flights into the WTC, muslim US military MD/Captain gunning down fellow soldiers, Time square and numerous other terrorist incidents in US, etc, etc. All this in the name of islam. Every day muslims blow people up, usually other muslims. We infidels should not expect any better treatment as their ranks swell in rhe US. Look at a few of the terrible things the muslims do; killing the Dutch film guy Van Gogh, terrorist attacks and attempted terrorist attacks in the US, trying to kill cartoonists, censoring western publications under threat of death, blah, blah, blah, the list goes on and on. Anyone who can read and count know that terrorist incidents by muslims greatly outnumber those of EVERYBODY ELSE combined. So useful idiots in On Faith land, it is obvious to anyone who can read and count there is no room for islam in the secular west.

  • Sajanas

    At the same time, Numbers 1:51Deuteronomy 7:2I love the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible… the second verse goes on and on, against inter-religious marriage, destroying alters, etc. Its tough to find any single scriptural support for this sort of thing, especially in the Old Testament. There are always counter verses, sometime involving fun things like rape and genocide. I think we need to follow a much more clear line of text, that of the First Amendment. And while I personally feel its a little insensitive to put the cultural center so close to the site of the greatest act of Islamic Extremism ever, I’ll just have to suck it up and deal with it, because that’s what equal freedom for all means.

  • DanielintheLionsDen

    I don’t agree with most of the anti-Muslim posts here, but it does give me a slight feeling of nausea to realize that such an Islamic Center might be built so close to Ground Zero. And it is VERY close, despite what people say. In fact, the reason why the current building is boarded up and unusable is not because it is in a derelict part of town, but because it was damaged in the 9/11 attack, and is really part of Ground Zero.I do not think such sentiments as mine, wishing that this Center could be built somewhere else in Manhattan, not at the very edge of Ground Zero, is oppresseive to any group of people. This group of people who feel oppressed at other people’s angst should be more humble and refelctive of what happened that day in the name of their religion, and about the true meaning of this Center, since religious efforts of all sorts are often promoted in bad faith, for purposes, not just of praying and worshipping, but of proselytizing, and money making.

  • DanielintheLionsDen

    Muslims in America are not enslaved here; they fled their homelands to come here; so camparing them them to the Jews in Egypt falls flat.And I somehow, cannot associate the word “oppressed” with Islam. Islam, like its twin, Christianity, is flamboyantly dominating and aggressive. Again, the argument falls flat. If you have to make an argument, just appeal to freedom of religion, and leave it at that.

  • areyousaying

    By the same logic used against Muslims, these scriptures justify denying Christian and Jews their First Amendment Rights as well:”And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he hath spoken to turn you away from the LORD your God…” (Deuteronomy 13: 5)”If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers;” (Deuteronomy 13: 6)”Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people.” (Deuteronomy 13:8-9)”Thou shalt surely smite the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, destroying it utterly, and all that is therein, and the cattle thereof, with the edge of the sword.” (Deuteronomy 13:15)Moreover, it’s equally egregious that Catholics could built a church next to a middle school in light of their international organized racketeering in protecting their pervert priests.

  • areyousaying

    “Every one that is found shall be thrust through; and every one that is joined unto them shall fall by the sword. Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses shall be spoiled, and their wives ravished.” (Isaiah 13:15-16)

  • areyousaying

    Here are the scriptures the KKK used to justify killing blacks:”And there came out against them Zerah the Ethiopian with an host of a thousand thousand, and three hundred chariots…” (II Chronicles 14:9)So the LORD smote the Ethiopians before Asa, and before Judah; and the Ethiopians fled. (II Chronicles 14:12)

  • areyousaying

    “Happy shall he be, that taketh

  • woodstock-41

    Beware of 8.11!The Only Solution to this Building Mosques Pollution All Over America is for the “ATHEIST CULT-tURAL AND SECT-tional CENTER” [a New None Profit Org; or new-Kid-On-The-Block, so to spaketh] that will be Building or renting offices Right Next To Every Mosque, Madrassas, or Islamic Center therein/at, includes the This One in Lower Manhattan. A ATHEIST CULTURAL CENTER is badly needed in order to Educate the unsuspecting (history Lazy Mindeds) Public About Islam et al. For Example; Those People Walking by the Mosque will be handed a “ISHLAMISH FOR DUMMIES” Pamphlet explaining or ‘Revealing What some Sura’s hath been Signaling to the AL TAQIYAHIST’s Imam/Imire/Ayatolah/Wahhabi… who, like the Communist Scare of Pre & Post “Wood-Stock” era attempted, but ishmaeli’s that are bent on Dominating US eventually (Because our Laws are Too-Nice) to to eventually Conquer and or Islamicize [This] pace Ship Earth along with the SINO COMMY’s! Please Do NOT give Any Money or Humanitarian Aid to a NUCLEAR Islamic PAKISTAN; a Country who was poorer than India with streets full of Beggars portraying such as-if really Poor/Impoverished People. Ha! What Suuckers WE Westerners are Today. What a Revelation. Amazing, NO Grace! Now They’re Suuckered US and Friendly’s via Satanic-Versus in Distraction Techniques, in Afghanistan and within Pakistan. i.e. See Karachi News Today. Hint: Islami Pakistani’s & ishlami Afghani’s are the real “EVIL EMPIRE”; as our President Mr. R. Reagan {pbuh et al] once inadvertently spaketh bout such Evil People as U.S.S.R. Out of 54+ Islam Nations via the “OIC” One of Them Wants’ and Will (like a Suicide Bomber; but a SUiCIDE-NATION) will Explode a NUKE.They (AL Taqiyahists UMMAH) Want to Make History for Current and Future Islami Kids; buy letting then Learn WHY and How Islam Was Forced To Drop an Atomic [Suicide] Bomb on Any Us “KAFIR”s! (None Islamics). So,BEWARE this coming “8.11”. ELDERS of SATANIC-VERSUS are Up To NO Good; Especially with the Great Trouble-Maker Nation; Islami Neo-Nazi-TURKEY & CO.! The Islami Ummah, They , are pounding the Allah-Drum for War. Can’t Ye Hear them? ISLAM is Conspiring with SINO’s To Conquer This World!Abolish THEOCRACY first and MONARCHY second [Or Simultaneously] Off The Face Of This holyi S.pace-S.hip Earth; Then WE [i], the “Future-Bounded” and “Space-Forth” Thinkers; Lovers a/k/a “Automatic-Born Citizens/Denizen”s of S.S. Earth will Talk “Healing Of Nations” and “Genuine-World-Peace” and more good tidings.

  • clynn05

    It is ironic how you speak of using the scriptures inappropriately and then you choose to use them inappropriately. You see there is one HUGE problem here. These people are not being oppressed. They are welcomed into our country… our Christian country… and are free to worship as they please. See no oppression. Yet they CHOOSE to be offensive in pursuing that freedom by building a reminder to the biggest attack ever on this nation that has always welcomed others so freely.

  • jsue4444

    I agree with Brian McLaren concerning the building of an Islamic center for peaceful Muslims in downtown New York. But, I would hesitate in using the Old Testament verses to back up my reasoning. The OT can be a bloody, revengeful saga of death and destruction by God and Man. Just look at the history of those who read and followed the OT; Jews, Christians, and Muslims. The OT is not a book of love, forgiveness, and peace.The New Testament is, however. Jesus said,

  • ZZim

    The government should not prevent the Muslims from building their mosque. It’s not the goverment’s job to protect us from ourselves. If they want to make this asinine move, then let them.

  • RevRunD

    That is just poor application of the Bible.