comment, religous studies

The so-called ‘Ground Zero Mosque,’ and my letter to the Catholic Archdiocese of OKC

The furor surrounding Park51, the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” (not at Ground Zero, not a mosque, etc.), shows no sign of abating.  Even some of my liberal acquaintances are joining in the game of religious intolerance, and playing games with the aspirations and lives of American Muslims.  I won’t spend any time refuting the Islamophobia, because from I can see, there is no talking to these people.

I have, however, written to the Archdiocese of the Catholic Church in Oklahoma City, and to St. Joseph’s Old Cathedral.  St. Joseph’s actually is a neighbor to the bombed Alfred P. Murrah building, destroyed by Christian Identity movement member, White Supremacist, and life-long Catholic, Timothy McVeigh, America’s most famous home-grown terrorist.  St. Joseph’s was permitted not only to repair and rebuild its beautiful Cathedral, but was even permitted to contribute a statue of a ‘Weeping Jesus’ to the memorial garden.  If that is acceptable, and I believe strongly that it is, and indeed is a positive thing, then the Catholic Church should stand up and make its voice heard in defense of Park 51.  Now.

Jesus Wept.

After the jump, you can read my letter to the diocese and the Church. I encourage all readers to send similar letters to them.  Please be polite.

Pastoral Center Offices
7501 NW Expressway
Oklahoma City, OK  73132

St. Joseph’s Old Cathedral
307 Northwest 4th Street
Oklahoma City, OK 73102-3007

Friday, August 20, 2010

Dear Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, and St. Joseph’s Catholic Church,

I write to you in order to plead for your assistance in combating the hateful atmosphere of religious intolerance in our country.  I believe your Archdiocese and Church are particularly well suited to make a significant and peace-creating contribution to our current discussions.

I am a person concerned about the state of our country, and the state of religious freedom.  The hateful ‘discussion’ that is taking place around the country, regarding Park 51, the Muslim community center, containing a small worship space, is disturbing to many people of good conscience, whether they are members of the Catholic faithful, other Christians, Atheists, or others, including of course, Muslims.

St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Oklahoma City has a powerful place in the American imagination here, and is particularly relevant.  I write to plead for your help in combating the forces of religious intolerance in our country.

American Catholics are well aware of the long history of discrimination, racism, and exclusion of Catholics from American spheres of power; it was only with John F. Kennedy that we managed to elect a Catholic president, and even that was considered a grave security threat by the Know-nothing nativists.  Of course that was hogwash, and we continue to make progress opposing anti-Catholic bigotry. As a result, Catholics, like American Jews, are well positioned to authoritatively and publicly make their opposition to religious intolerance known, and to defend the principle of religious equality before the law, and to oppose the nativists.  If concerned people of good conscience and faith fail to do so, the consequences could be disastrous for all of us, for few believe that the rising intolerance in our country will stop with the Muslims.  If American Muslims, many of whom lost their lives in the World Trade Center attacks of 2001and were first responders to the horrible attack, are prevented from exercising their religious rights, the Catholics and the Jews will likely be next on the agenda.

St. Joseph’s is particularly well situated here, because of its proximity to the Alfred P. Murrah building, and its contribution of the beautiful “Weeping Jesus” statue to the Memorial Garden.  Timothy McVeigh was a Catholic, a member of the Christian Identity movement, and a right-wing extremist terrorist who murdered hundreds, and would gladly have killed more.

But of course, Catholics should not bear the blame for such a horrendous crime.  Neither should Muslims.  McVeigh has been punished, as is appropriate, and while the wounds of loss will never fully heal, revenge against the innocent has never been an answer promoted by the Church.

I plead with you, the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, and the Priest and staff of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, to make a public statement of support for the Park 51 community center project, and opposing the vicious religious intolerance that is currently infecting our political and cultural discourse.

I am happy to discuss these issues with you further, or to assist in the drafting, editing, or promotion of any such statement, should that be desired.

With great respect, and a desire for true religious tolerance and a peaceful world,

Erik W. Davis
Assistant Professor, Asian Religions
Macalester College
1600 Grand Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55105

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