Monday, August 23, 2010

A Friendly Response to a Reader and Friend's Push Back

Yesterday, one of my old high-school buddies wandered into this blog, read the entry and wrote me a brief email.

Kurt Schaum is an old friend who was one of the men I was honored to have stand up with me at my wedding. We rarely see each other these days and I miss him. He is fun, always quick with a biting comment and we share a lot of history together.

Today he read this blog and sent me an email. I am attaching it below.

I just read the article you posted by that Carol woman on the “Intolerance of Liberals.”

I realize it might make me “elitist” and “intolerant”, but this liberal would like to point out three important facts that Carol seems to ignore:

1. The proposed building is not a mosque, but a community center.
2. It is not located at Ground Zero, but two New York City blocks away.
3. It is Constitutionally protected Freedom of Religion.

The same right that protects church planting in areas that may be hostile to your beliefs.

Here's my response:

Hey Kurt,

Good to hear from you. I hope you are doing well. I had no idea that you were "creepin" through any of my blogs. I'm honored. Have you been able to get together with Ron and Waz at all?

The blog you responded to is kind of a sideline. I'm not really that invested in it. When I find an article that has a perspective I think is worth sharing. I might repost it with some small comment of my own. I have written on the horrific right/left divide on a couple of posts over the years. Here in the Chicago area, there was a time where on my ride up to Trinity Seminary to teach my church planting classes you could see what I called, "dueling billboards." One billboard for a radio station declared "Liberals Hate Us". Two miles up the road was another station, from the left that advertised, "Conservatives love to hate us."


Anyway, I decided to listen to one on my way up to Trinity, and the other on my way home. It was enlightening. I did that for about a month. What I discovered is that both sides seemed to be talking right past one another. Each assumed they knew what the other was going to say. Each assumed they knew the motives of the other. Neither seemed to be willing to listen to anything that was said except to collect phrases that they might fit into their preconceived notions about the other. It was really kind of comical. But it was also sad, because, as I have learned from counseling close to 100 couples over the years about difficulties in their marriage, once one person assumes they know either what the other will say or what the other's motives are, all productive listening and discussion ends. Which is why Carol Platt Liebau's marriage illustration (see the article) makes so much sense to me.

Anyway, let me address the three points you mentioned. But if you don't mind, I am going to take them in reverse order.

3. It is a constitutionally protected freedom of religion.

You are absolutely correct. If there are people on the right or left saying that the proposed mosque is not allowed to be built on constitutional grounds they clearly have no leg to stand on. But I haven't heard anyone say that. (Though I'm sure we could find some idiot who would love the camera time!) The most reasonable arguments against the mosque are on completely different lines. Don't go by the sound bites on the right (FOX) or the left (ABC, NBC, ABC, CNN). You'll have to get below and beyond the rhetoric of how these media outlets retain their already convinced audiences.

The arguments I think make the most sense are that if the mosque is supposedly to be built for its stated purpose--to be a bridge and bring reconciliation after 911, then all the polls of NY city, NY state, and the nation show that it isn't working. The level of distrust is still too raw and visceral for most Americans. It seems insensitive rather than sensitive, inflammatory rather than conciliatory. If the shoes were reversed, and a group that I supported wanted to build a church in an area where it was not wanted, and raised this level of animosity, my counsel to my friends would be, "Hey for the sake of your mission, find another place. You may have the right, but it is not wise to continue. There are better options and you will win more friends by not going against the majority of the community wishes."

2. It is not located at Ground Zero, but two new York City blocks away.

Indisputably true again. But to my mind, it is a point without a point. The Islamic cleric and groups associated with the proposal, the whole media complex (right and left), the Associated Press directives to their reporters, almost the entire discussion has associated the mosque with Ground Zero in some way. That association is "sticky." It influences all the discussion and the emotions associated with the proposal. As a result, while technically, it is true--it isn't at ground zero, the technicality is mute. Either way, I am not going to lose any sleep over the difference.

1. The proposed mosque is not a mosque but a community center.

I would argue similarly to what I said to your second point. But I would also point out that it depends somewhat on what your leanings are. Liberals see it as a community center with a mosque. Conservatives, tend to see it as a mosque with a community center. The clerics have not helped matters by calling it one or the other depending on the audience they have in front of them. This doesn't build trust in an already charged atmosphere.

Kurt, you know me. I can be an idiot sometimes. But even when I'm an idiot, I think your experience with me is that I am neither unreasonable nor bigoted. I pastored a church with 23 countries of birth represented in the congregation. I regularly engage with Muslims in friendly, loving and compassionate ways. My next door neighbor is Muslim and I have had him in my house for pie and conversation, we are planning a BBQ, and he tells me I am the best neighbor he has ever had. He voted for Obama and has a deep Muslim heritage in Pakistan.

Hopefully, our friendship can stand this test. I hope my words here help clarify at least where I stand and why (at least some of my why).

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