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Christian Nationalism's War with Islam

By the Rev. Howard Bess
August 24, 2010

Editor’s Note: Fox News’ Glenn Beck and other right-wing voices are claiming that the “Ground Zero Mosque” is a sign that aggressive Muslims are trying to impose their religious will on non-Muslims, making Christians and Jews the victims.

However, Islam is surely not the only religion that purports to represent God’s chosen way. For instance, fundamentalist Christians in the United States have long attacked the “separation of church and state” and advocate Christian domination of the nation and the world, a point Rev. Howard Bess addresses in this guest essay:

An underlying issue in the dispute over a proposed Islamic center near the site of 9/11’s Ground Zero is the emergence of Christian nationalism, which embraces a vision of the world in which every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Christ is Lord.

There is a significant part of the American population (possibly as many as 20 percent), who believe that the United States has been chosen by God to be a special people led by Christians. Their vision is the United States leading the world under the banner of Christ. 

One of the marks of Christian nationalism is that it identifies its enemies, and Muslims have been identified as the enemy that must be defeated.
Yet, Christians are very diverse as they always have been. Throughout history, there have been Christian peace lovers who cite Jesus’s teachings of loving one’s enemies and there have been militants who grab a sword with little provocation. Between these extremes, the varieties of Christians are endless.

The same is true of Muslims. Just as there is an ongoing struggle among Christians for the soul of the Faith, so also is there an ongoing struggle among Muslims for the soul of Islam. In recent decades, for a variety of geopolitical reasons, the militants of both faiths have become powerful.

In the past, when Christian militants and Muslim militants tangled, mighty battles have ensued. The Crusades, in which Christian armies invaded Muslim lands with the goal of claiming the Holy Lands, represent history’s most brutal example.

At present, the tensions between Christians and Muslims are heightened by world events. Trust is at a very low level. Emotions are high. A mosque and community center near Ground Zero has been cited by some Christians as an aggressive act by Muslims.

The controversy is over the fact that militant Muslims were responsible for the 9/11 attacks and that other Muslims, albeit moderates who have condemned the 9/11 attacks, are behind the construction project.

However, we all need to be reminded that the people who died on 9/11 represented a broad spectrum of religious persuasions. American Catholics, American Protestant Christians of many varieties, American Jews and, yes, American Muslims died.

Included among the victims were atheists and agnostics, and probably Hindus, Buddhists and Taoists. Anyone who knows a bit about New York City is fully aware of the splendid diversity of people who live and work there.

The people who were working in the Twin Towers and died on 9/11 most certainly reflected a cross section of the New York City population.  People of nearly every religious persuasion lost loved ones and adherents on 9/11.

The moderate Muslim organization that has planned the center also has passed through every procedure required by New York City, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Jew, has spoken out strongly in defense of the project. 

Regarding the Islamic center, President Barak Obama made a precise statement about religious freedom in America, a clear indication that, as a constitutional lawyer, he understands the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which includes these words: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Nevertheless, the protests reflect a resentment of Muslims, regardless of their lack of individual responsibility for the attack. Simply put, this view holds that Muslims flew the planes that crashed the Twin Towers, and that for Muslims to build a mosque so near “Ground Zero” is to add insult to injury. 

Thus, this thinking goes that Muslims, by intent, are forcing every person who passes the Islamic center and mosque to be reminded that Muslims inflicted enormous damage on America and were rubbing it in.

This attitude assumes that all Muslims are cut from the same cloth, despise Americans, are violent by conviction, and took pleasure in the attack on the towers.

Those who want to raise this sensitivity issue are doing the very thing they claim Muslims are doing; they are showing no sensitivity toward the millions of American Muslims who are loyal to the United States and cherish flag and nation.

They are placing judgments on Muslims who have come to the United States for the same reasons that our Christian and Jewish ancestors came, for freedom and opportunity. They are placing judgments on Americans who have become Muslim for reasons of conscience. They are equating being Muslim with violence and deceit.

As I try to live out my best understanding of Christian Faith, I simply see my new neighbor as a Muslim that Jesus instructs me to love. I look at the new mosque near Ground Zero as an opportunity to build a new and different kind of neighborhood, for Lower Manhattan, the United States and the world.

The Rev. Howard Bess is a retired American Baptist minister, who lives in Palmer, Alaska. His e-mail address is             

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