Recently the word got out that a Muslim non-profit group purchased 135 acres of land with plans to build a mosque, cemetery, and other potential developments in the southern part of the county I grew up in – the place I’ve called home since I was four years old. Needless to say, the news stirred up plenty of controversy.
As a result of the outcry surrounding the potential mosque property, the county commission declared a five-week moratorium on all permitting for religious facilities. Of course, the controversy didn’t die down there. Hundreds filed in to a hastily called meeting for residents to voice their opinions, while Muslim groups have threatened to get the federal government involved – it is a First Amendment issue, after all.
Some of the opposition has been reasonable and calm. There are people who harbor concerns over traffic and development in general in a quiet, rural part of the county. Others believe that the transaction wasn’t exactly on the up and up; the original application called for an “Avery Community Church” on the site. Let’s face it: some of these concerns are legitimate.
Unfortunately, we’ve also seen the worst come out in people in light of the news about the potential mosque. Many of the residents who attended the meeting did so out of fear and anger – and, yes, hate. I’ve seen plenty of posts on social media demonstrating a less than Christlike attitude among folks who consider themselves believers. I’ve even heard of people looking to sell their houses and move elsewhere, along with rumors of some planned stunts like people throwing pieces of pork onto the property.
On the other side of the issue, I’ve seen the condescending busybodies who look down their noses at the people with concerns about the sale of the land. They call those who don’t wholeheartedly embrace the idea “bigots,” and they do so as loudly and possible. Many of them go so far as to equivocate between Christianity and Islam in the name of a vaporous notion of diversity or tolerance. I have a hard time with people who can only respond to adversity with name calling, no matter how righteous the anger or the cause.
What dismays me the most about this whole ordeal isn’t the idea of a mosque in my hometown, or whether we should push for diversity for diversity’s sake, or even how the county is handling the situation. I’m disappointed by the way Christians here are reacting out of fear, worry, and anger.
As the controversy about the mosque bubbled over and grew, two verses came to my mind over and over:
…for we walk by faith, not by sight.
2 Corinthians 5:7 (ESV)
…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
2 Timothy 1:7 (ESV)
As believers in Christ, our faith should drive our reaction to the world around us. We should trust that the God we love and worship is in control. And we should never act out of fear or worry. We should instead allow the Holy Spirit inside of us to drive us in the knowledge and confidence that God is sovereign and good no matter what.
We are also to, in the words of Jesus, love our neighbors (Matthew 22:39) and do so boldly. We should embrace them, not as a show of tolerance and diversity but as an example of the powerful, life-changing love of Jesus Christ.
Christians should look forward to having deep conversations about faith with their Muslim neighbors, meeting needs in the name of Jesus, and baptizing Muslims who have come to faith in Jesus! Instead of worrying, the church should rise to the challenge.
This past Sunday, at both campuses of the church where I work and serve, our speaking pastors addressed the situation in the county eloquently and truthfully. At the Covington Campus, where I attend, Pastor Scott Moore said, “The church was never meant to retreat. The church always goes forward,” At our Jackson Lake Campus, which lies closer to the proposed mosque land, Pastor Gary Thompson said, “The problem is not that a mosque is coming. The problem rests on whether or not we believe we have the power of Christ to change the world.”
In moments like these, we Christians have a choice: will we cower in fear and worry, or will we boldly love and work to advance God’s kingdom? Our answer to this question will make all the difference in the world.