Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Letters to the Editor on the “Ground Zero Mosque” Controversy

I’ve mentioned several times in this blog my affection for community newspapers. In the West Valley View, local residents often write letters to the editor to debate current events (and blow off steam). In some ways I love the fact that my neighbors are so passionate about issues in our community. On the other hand, many of the letters are so filled with intolerance and bitterness. At times, I cannot bear to read them or can only bring myself to read a few. I have friends in my community who read the West Valley View, but deliberately skip the letters to the editor. Others have shared with me that they no longer even open that newspaper because of the ugliness of the letters to the editor.

In late August, I read two published letters to the editor in the West Valley View, which got my attention. One was a beautiful letter from a Christian pastor, who was speaking out against “anti-Muslim hysteria.” Instead he was encouraging grace and tolerance for our Muslim brothers and sisters. I was encouraged that for once the secular public was hearing the perspective of a Christian who was speaking love for--and not condemnation of--Muslims.

But next to the pastor’s letter was a letter more typical of the type published in the letters to the editor in this community newspaper. A woman wrote to denounce others who had dared to speak out against “anti-Muslim hysteria.” She claimed such attitudes were indicative of “political correctness” and demonstrated ignorance about the real issues at stake in the “ground zero mosque” controversy. Her point was essentially that if we allowed a mosque to be built near ground zero, the terrorists will view that as a victory for their side. For a number of reasons, I found the last line of her letter particularly heart-breaking: “This mosque, if allowed to be built, would not show the world American tolerance but American naivety and stupidity.”

Both of these letters were published in the August 31st edition of the West Valley View, and are available at the link below:

I had never before written a letter to the editor, but those two letters from my neighbors spurred me (for differing reasons) to compose a response. I wrote in support of the pastor’s words, and to rebuke the misguided words of the other letter. My letter was published in the September 10th edition of the newspaper, and is available at the link below:

Like many Christians, I get tired of secular representations of my faith that are inaccurate. I believe it was Pastor Rick Warren who has noted that in recent years the Christian voices that are most often heard in the secular media are simply those that are the loudest. Like it or not, the secular media is an important vehicle for non-Christians to learn about Christianity. In this day and age, the media is very influential in shaping people’s attitudes and beliefs on a number of topics. However, when the secular media only pays attention to the loudest voices in the large and diverse Christian community, the impression that is often left is inaccurate. For example, a common misimpression is that Christianity is a religion of intolerance against sexual minorities and adherents of other religions, among others in our society. But I think any fair reading of our sacred scripture indicates that Christ modeled and advocated the opposite approach. He repeatedly reached out to the shunned and the isolated. His message of unconditional love was not just for one group, but for all human kind. In essence, I wrote my letter to the editor to echo the perspective of Pastor Souers and to show the community that popular impressions of Christianity don't necessarily hit the mark. In writing my letter, I tried my best to provide a more accurate Christian witness.

Proverbs 31:9

Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Ecclesiastes 4:12

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

John 13:34 (New International Version)

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

1 Peter 3:8 (New International Version)

Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.

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