Rebuilding CommunityAugust 15, 2012
The rhetoric against Muslims in the United States has been heating up over the past few years (see posts here, here, here, here, and here). Unfortunately, an increase harsh rhetoric against a group often also correlates with a rise in violence against that group. This clearly seems to be the case with Muslim Americans. The most recent example is the attack last week on a mosque in Joplin, Missouri. On July 4, someone apparently decided to create their own fireworks and set the mosque on fire. Although that fire damaged the mosque, the situation got even worse last week when the mosque again lit up. This time the mosque was destroyed. No one has been arrested yet in either fire. But such an attack on a house of worship should be seen as an attack on the right to worship in general--just as the horrific shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin by a white supremacist last week also was an attack on the religious rights of a minority community. Ironically, the second fire at the Joplin mosque came just one day before Missourians overwhelming passed a state constitutional amendment which purportedly protects the right of people to pray (see post here on the problematic amendment). That amendment came as many Christian leaders in the state argued their rights were under attack. For instance, Reverend Terry Hodges of First Baptist Church in Odessa (the pastor of State Rep. Mike McGhee, the Republican sponsor of the effort), proclaimed that the amendment will "level the playing field" for Christians since "now there's a hostility toward Christians." This is the type of rhetoric that led Religion & Politics to wish there could be "a moratorium on the phrase 'war on religion' in all but the most apt circumstances." Like the burning down of a house of worship.
Fortunately, some Christians are working to be good neighbors. A student at Ozark Christian College in Joplin is leading a rally to promote unity (the Facebook page for the effort can be found here). A local Episcopal church opened its facilities for Muslims to host a Ramadan dinner. Leaders of several other churches offered their support for the besieged Muslim community. It is good to see some Christians in Joplin taking seriously the commands of Jesus to love their neighbors. In a community still struggling to rebuild from the devastating tornado last year, the attack on the mosque threatens to tear the community apart. People across the nation rallied to help rebuild Joplin last year. Now we need Joplin to respond to the mosque fire in a manner that helps rebuild the nation and our ideals of religious liberty for all.