Friday, June 18, 2010

Paying Our Debts

The great writer Anonymous said, "History repeats itself because no one listens the first time.” I was reminded of this after reading an article in our local paper about public dissent at a recent county commission meeting considering the approval of the construction of an Islamic mosque.

Although some present based their protest on lack of proper public notice related to prior zoning approval, a number openly opposed  the building because it would be built by an Islamic group. The pastor of a local megachurch commented, “"We have a duty to investigate anyone under the banner of Islam.” This takes the protest in a whole new direction.

We have forgotten that many people came to this country to escape a religious climate marked by distrust and oppression. In the colonies, Baptists were often persecuted because they did not want to support an established church. They were labeled as dissenters, anarchists, and heretics because of this stand. Fortunately, Baptist leaders like Roger Williams, Isaac Backus, and John Leland stood up not only for their rights but for those of others, including followers of Allah.  They were not afraid of those who said, "We have a duty to investigate anyone who is a Baptist."

If someone is concerned about property values or traffic, they may have a legitimate complaint, but opposition based on religious preference alone is counter to our Constitution. Fortunately, the county planning director pointed out that under the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a project cannot be rejected on the basis of religion.

A leader of the local Islamic community explained that many in their group were professional people who had been part of the community for over 40 years. These people are taxpayers and responsible members of the community. I have met and talked with several of them over the years and have found them to be friendly and cooperative. They deserve to build their place of worship.

Those of us who are now in the majority owe those in the minority the benefit of the doubt, but when it comes to religious freedom, our debt is to our own forebears.

2 comments:

David C. George said...

Thomas Helwys,early English Baptist, stood for freedom for all people in the early 1600s: “Let them be heretics, Turks, Jews,
or whatsoever, it appertaines not to the earthly power to punish them in the least measure.”
George Truett, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas, stood before the Baptist World
Alliance in 1939 and declared, “Baptists make this contention, not only for themselves, but as
well, for all others—for Protestants of all denominations, for Romanists, for Jews, for Quakers, for Turks, for Pagans, for all men everywhere.”

Ircel said...

The pastor who spoke at the meeting indicated that he was misquoted. Here is what he intended to say:

"I would submit to you that we have a duty here at home to understand thoroughly the nature, the intent, the funding of any group that is being invited into our community under that general banner (of Islam)."

Given the time that the Muslims have been involved in this community and the current presence of an Islamic center here, his comment still seems to miss the mark.