Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Unwanted Notoriety

My hometown of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, has been receiving national recognition in the news recently, but the increased visibility has nothing to do with down home music, home cooked food, or Southern hospitality. The news deals with a proposed Islamic center on the outskirts of our community and the opposition voiced by some local residents. The fact that we are in an election season has not helped the problem. I admire those candidates who have stood up for religious freedom and espoused a welcoming attitude for people of all faiths rather than appealing to the fears of the electorate.

Things turned ugly over the weekend when vandals poured gasoline over construction vehicles doing site preparation for the Islamic center and set one vehicle on fire. Although there had been some vandalism earlier involving a sign on the site, this violation crosses the line.

In an interview on WPLN Radio today, Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen called for tolerance and “a step back.” He asked citizens “to please have great respect for anyone’s religious preferences and their rights to practice those in the United States. I think it goes right to the heart of what this country is about.” He also stated that, like a marriage quarrel, there is a line you don’t cross. The line of what is constitutionally protected, he said, is a hard one to jump back over.

People in our community are good people, but many are afraid. When you are afraid, you look for some one to blame. Things are changing. Economic conditions are trying for many. Our community has become more ethnically diverse in the last thirty years. People with beliefs that differ from our own—Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus—are now a part of the community. (In fact, a Buddhist was elected as a county commissioner in a recent election.) Up to this point, we have found ways to be inclusive and caring amidst all this change.

We need to recognize that we live in tense times, but we most find ways to resolve the tensions without vandalism or violence. We must love our neighbors as we love ourselves. This is not only the American way, it is the Christian way.


Bill Lollar said...

We lived in the UK for five years, but moved back to the states just over a year ago. Our community was much more multicultural than we were accustomed to; in fact, I remember vividly being somewhat frightened our first time at Heathrow airport in 2004 when our shuttle bus driver wore a colorful turban. Five years later, after getting to know Sikhs (the ones with the colorful turbans) and Muslims up close, I learned that they love their families and struggle in their marriages and work through teen rebellion like the rest of us. Like you said, we can find ourselves reacting horribly because of fear. This is a sad commentary on American life if we have forgotten that our roots are planted deep in the soil of religious freedom.

Ircel said...

Thanks for your comment, Bill. Reminds us of the things we all struggle with.