One local church helps to combat fear

I was mortified and outraged when I heard that a pastor is planning a “National Burn a Qur’an Day” scheduled for September 11 and encouraged other churches to do likewise. Terry Jones, pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida has probably never even cracked open a copy of the Sublime Qur’an for if he had he would see familiar characters such as Moses, Abraham, Jesus, Mary, the angel Gabriel and many others. The word Allah means God in Arabic, regardless of whether one is Christian, Jewish, or Muslim.

I am reminded of the Flushing Remonstrance, a petition to Director-General of New Netherland Peter Stuyvesant, penned in Flushing, Queens, NYC in 1657, which reads in part: “The law of love, peace and liberty in the states extending to Jews, Turks and Egyptians.” It is considered a precursor to the United States Constitution’s provision on freedom of religion in the Bill of Rights.

Fox News has been fanning the flames with the “Mosque on Ground Zero” segments repeatedly. The Fox Story is an inaccuracy, since it is not a mosque but rather a progressive Muslim Community Center and, it is being built several blocks from Ground Zero. Islam is only one issue that is bubbling at the surface. The swell of anti-immigration in this country is another disturbing trend. At times, the media feeds into our anxieties and some politicians have decided it is in their interests to fan public fears.

Of what are Americans particularly fearful? We are afraid of change. We have anxieties about our economy, joblessness, home foreclosure, et al. Some fear cultural diversity and the perceived disruption in America whilst others embrace the diversity. For me, I think that First Lady Michelle Obama said it most eloquently when she said: “Diversity in this country is a good thing, whether it’s gender or race or socioeconomic background or religion … the more views and experiences at the table make for better outcomes.”

Would the American public not be served better by the example set by a conference that was held at a Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, MD earlier this year? The main theme of this conference was “Is there a role for religion and interfaith dialogue in countering the negative effects of fear in the public square?”

The conference was entitled Managing Fear through Faith and was sponsored and hosted by Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church. The conference was co-sponsored by some rather impressive organization such as U.S. in the World Initiative and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Click here to view photos from the conference.

Equally impressive was the fact that it was co-hosted by Bethesda Jewish Congregation, Idara e Jaferia Mosque, the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue, the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, and the New America Foundation. Imagine if churches, mosques, and synagogues throughout this country took this example and replicated it?

There were three papers, which I recommend to everyone to read, which were commissioned for this conference. Christian Faith and Life Beyond Fear by Tyler Zoanni, Fear in the Muslim Tradtion by Hafsa Kanjwal, and Fear Beyonf Fright by Joshua M. Z. Stanton

All one needs to do is listen to the tone in people’s voices at rallies, in discourse, in interviews to see that fear has gripped us as a nation and as a society. We live in a time of great civil discourse and sadly, there are politicians and political parties who are ready to capitalize on our fears and in doing so contribute to gridlock and polarization in this country. What this Nation needs is a tempering down of fear, we need creative solutions and bipartisan action in order to help solve our problems.

I am also reminded and encouraged by the words of our United States President Barack Hussein Obama in his address to the United Nations General Assembly: Responsibility for our Common Future, September 23, 2009 wherein he said: “We must embrace a new era of engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect and our work must begin now.”