|Rev. Geoffrey Black, General Minister and President, United Church of Christ
UCC leaders are joining an ecumenical call for greater respect for the Muslim community after "voices of intolerance and fear" have challenged the building of a mosque and learning center near the site of the former World Trade Center in New York City.
The call -- issued on Aug. 11 by the National Council of Churches -- asks Christians to increase understanding and respect for their Muslim neighbors. The request coincides with the beginning of Islam's month-long observance of Ramadan.
"The United Church of Christ has had a long commitment to seeking dialogue with members of the Muslim community," said the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, UCC general minister and president. "Our 1989 General Synod affirmed God's call for Christians to be agents of reconciliation, breaking down walls of division. We must remain true to this vocation of peacemaking and reconciliation, standing firm amidst voices of intolerance and fear."
The NCC, through its Interfaith Relations Commission and Christian members of the National Muslim-Christian initiative, issued the statement:
"We are keenly aware that many Muslims, as well as Jews, Christians, Hindus, and others, lost family members in the attacks on September 11, 2001," the statement reads. "We recognize, as does the Muslim community around the world, that it was a group of Muslims who embraced terrorism and teachings counter to the Qur'an and Islam that carried out this action. We stand with the majority of Muslims — including American Muslims — who are working against such radical influences in their communities."
The NCC is urging Christians to embody Christ's teachings as the basis for denouncing anti-Muslim sentiment.
"Christ calls us to 'love your neighbor as yourself'(Matt. 22:39). It is this commandment, more than the simple bonds of our common humanity, which is the basis for our relationship with Muslims around the world," the NCC statement said.
UCC leaders have joined others in the NCC who are expressing support for building the Cordoba House "as a living monument to mark the tragedy of 9/11 through a community center dedicated to learning, compassion, and respect for all people. This effort is consistent with our country's principle of freedom of religion, and the rights all citizens should enjoy."
Church leaders also are denouncing a planned "International Burn the Qur'an Day," to be held on September 11th, as an "open act of hatred … that contradicts the ministry of Christ and the witness of the church in the world."
Peter Makari, the UCC/Disciples' area executive for the Middle East and Europe, said concerns about the treatment of Muslims in the United States are shared by Christian partners around the world.
"The Protestant Churches of Egypt, for example, issued a statement last week regarding the Dove World Outreach Center's planned burning of the Qur'an," he said. "Given our relationships with peace loving Muslims in the US and throughout the world, we are called to speak out against such vitriol and, more than that, to engage with Muslim neighbors positively.
"For Muslims, the Qur'an is the word of God, their most sacred text," Makari said. "It is highly ironic that an 'International Burn the Qur'an Day' is designated for the days immediately following the month of Ramadan, which in part commemorates the first revelations of the Qur'an."