What will Americans be thinking about this Christmas?
Around the world, Christians will soon be retelling the familiar story of Jesus’ birth. But the controversy surrounding the “Ground Zero mosque” will also dominate the minds of millions. Two religions—Christianity and Islam—will be in the headlines; both are controversial and both claim to have “the truth” about the nature of God and the path of salvation.
The mosque might generate more headlines than the manger, but the manger is far more important than the mosque could ever be. One is a place where people come; the other is the place to which God came when He was born in the flesh. As such, the manger is a symbol of the radical difference between the God of Christianity and all other religions.
Jesus was the only man on earth who chose where He would be born! Christmas cards often picture the baby Jesus with a halo, in a manger filled with clean straw and sheep nearby, scrubbed and blow dried. But Jesus was likely born in a room that smelled like a pet shop, or worse. Right from the beginning, God wanted to emphasize that redemption was for the most lowly, the most foul and unlikely. Historian Bruce Shelly has said, “Christianity is the only religion that has as its central event the humiliation of its God.”
When born, He was laid in a borrowed crib, and when He died He was laid in a borrowed tomb. He exposed the lie that only strength counts; He exposed the lie that only the mighty can be conquerors.
The manger also reminds us how personally God came to this Earth. The time had come to do what only God Himself could do: redeem humanity. So He came when no one was looking for Him, without fanfare and without pretense. He came “to redeem His people from their sins.”
And this manger represents our hearts: cold, dank, and unclean; yet it was here Christ was laid. Just so, this same Christ is reborn in our hearts, a place that is equally unworthy. So we sing, “O come to my heart Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for thee.”
As to the mosque in New York, I have written some of my thoughts for you in the center of this newsletter—especially the attitude we, as Christians, are called to have. I pray it will be helpful to you as you follow the debate and discuss it with those around you.
Should a 15-Story Mosque be Built Near Ground Zero?
On August 13, 2010 President Obama spoke eloquently about the constitutional liberties we enjoy in America, and therefore the Muslims should be able to build mosques anywhere, including next to Ground Zero, as long as they follow appropriate zoning laws, etc. The controversy seems to be pitted between those who are standing squarely for the Constitution and those who want to deny the Muslims these fundamental freedoms.
Perhaps however, the matter is not quite that simple. Something might be technically constitutional and still be inappropriate, insensitive, and highly insulting. For many people who lost loved ones on 9/11, the idea of creating a monument to the religion that gave birth to the attacks against the World Trade Center, is nothing less than an abomination. We must remember that in the Muslim tradition, monuments are built to commemorate great victories. For example, building the Dome of the Rock on the very spot where the Jewish temple stood was an act that symbolized the triumph of Islam over Judaism, and for that matter, over Christianity too.
When I was in Istanbul, my devoted Muslim guide pointed out that the great church of Holy Wisdom in Istanbul was quickly turned into a mosque after the Muslim conquest in 1453; this he said, proved a great triumph of Allah over Christianity. There seems to be little doubt that the purpose of the mosque near Ground Zero is to commemorate the very place where Islam triumphed. The mosque would be a monument to the perceived weakness of the United States, and the superiority of Islam. The name proposed for the mosque is Cordoba, the first mosque built in Spain that signified the Muslim conquest of that country centuries ago.
We are agreed that freedom of religion is a basic right granted to us by our constitution. As such, Muslims in America have the right to practice their faith, just as we do. However, we must bear in mind that whenever Muslims become a significant minority in any country, they make demands that infringe on our laws and freedoms (already they are given privileges here in America that are denied to Christians).
Last year when Rebecca and I arrived in London, the headline that greeted us in a British newspaper was, “Sharia Law Practiced in 87 Centers in England!” The goals of Islam were best expressed by a sign carried during a Muslim demonstration in Dearborn, Michigan. It read, “We will use the Constitution to Destroy the Constitution!” In other words, Muslims will use our freedoms to advance their causes and then destroy those freedoms once they grow to have a reasonable and powerful presence in our country.
However, it is important that we not see Muslims as our enemies, but rather as people who are victims of a very oppressive religion. For example, in answer to my question, several Muslim cab drivers in Chicago told me that yes, they should be killed if they were to convert to Christianity. However, let us never forget that tens of thousands of Muslims are being converted to Christ throughout the Muslim world. Their identities have to remain a secret for obvious reasons, but those who are in the know tell us that their numbers are in the millions.
Our attitude should be one of love, compassion, and helpfulness toward the Muslims among us. Remember, they are people just as we are, with hopes and dreams and disappointments. They also want peace and stability for their families. As we get to know them and serve them, they might indeed become curious about our faith, and come to know the freedom we enjoy through Christ.
Whether or not the mosque at Ground Zero gets built, let us represent Christ with wisdom and grace among all the communities of America, including the millions who are forced to remain in the Muslim religion. God has brought them to us so that they can hear the Gospel in a country where they will not be put to death for investigating the Christian claims.