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Top Religious Leaders Denounce Growing Anti-Muslim Sentiment; Express Support for NY Mosque, Community Center

August 11, 2010, 10:53 am | Posted by Kristin Ford

Challenge Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin To Stop Exploiting Fear

More than 40 prominent Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders and religion scholars issued a statement today condemning the “xenophobia and religious bigotry” fueling the increasingly strident opposition to a proposed Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero. These leaders from New York City and across the country are specifically challenging the divisive rhetoric of Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin, who have strongly opposed a center that will promote interfaith relations, combat extremism, and offer community programs for Americans of all religious backgrounds.

“It’s simply wrong for Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin to malign all Muslims by comparing this cultural center and mosque with a radical ideology that led to the horrific attacks of 9-11,” said Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby. “We fail to honor those killed by terrorists when we betray the bedrock principle of religious freedom that has guided our democracy for centuries.”

Newt Gingrich recently claimed that the Cordoba House “… is a sign of their contempt for Americans and their confidence in our historic ignorance that they would deliberately insult us this way.” Palin called plans for the center a “provocation” that “stabs at the heart.”

Faithful America – an online community of more than 100,000 people of faith – is also standing up for the American Muslim community and interfaith cooperation today in response to anti-Muslim sentiment and fierce opposition to proposed mosques in communities across the country. Faithful America members are signing a petition to honor the “many contributions of American Muslims toward global peace” and denounce bigotry and limits on religious freedom as a betrayal of American values.

“Christians who believe in the values of religious freedom and interfaith cooperation welcome plans for Cordoba House, a center of culture and dialogue that will honor our nation’s highest ideals,” said the Rev. Peg Chemberlin, President of the National Council of Churches. “We are deeply saddened by those who denigrate a religion which in so many ways is a religion of compassion and peace by associating all Muslims with violent extremism. That’s like equating all Christians to Timothy McVeigh’s actions. This center will reflect not only the best of Islam, but the enduring hope that Christians, Jews and Muslims can together find common ground in addressing the most urgent challenges of our time.”

“Back in the fall of 2001, when President George W. Bush assured the American people that the War on Terror was not a war against Islam, it would have been hard to imagine a more picture perfect example of Muslim Americans exercising their civic responsibilities than by building a thirteen-story YMCA-style community center,” said Rev. Chloe Breyer, Executive Director of the Interfaith Center of New York. “Cordoba House is exactly the kind of initiative that we need here in New York – it will serve people of all faith traditions and enrich the city, cultivating a society that lives up to our highest ideals, not our worse fears.”

“I’m proud to join so many leaders from diverse faith traditions who recognize that fear-mongering and scapegoating ‘the other’ has no rightful place in a nation that strives to be a beacon of hope for all those seeking opportunity or escaping persecution,” said Simon Greer, President and CEO of Jewish Funds for Justice. “At a time when Americans deserve real solutions to profound challenges, I am hopeful that the shrill voices of division will be drowned out by a chorus of citizens dedicated to working across lines of race and faith to serve the common good.”

Rabbi Marc Schneier, President of The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding in New York, said: “A fundamental tenet of the Torah teaches us to ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself’ (Leviticus 19:18). Far more challenging is the dictum, ‘Love the stranger, for you too were strangers in the land of Egypt’ (Deuteronomy 10:19). ‘Love thy neighbor’ is mentioned only once in the Bible while ‘Love the stranger’ is repeated 36 times. This added emphasis highlights how challenging and important it is to love someone different than yourself. Our great nation’s history as a beacon of tolerance and religious freedom further encourages us to embrace the strangers in our midst of different faiths and backgrounds. The Cordoba House embodies these proud and sacred traditions.”

The full statement with signatories is below, or available online here. To view the Faithful America petition, visit https://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/2518/action/supporting_muslims.

Interfaith Leaders Stand with Cordoba House, Denounce Hateful Rhetoric

As Catholic, evangelical, mainline Protestant, Jewish and Muslim leaders and scholars committed to religious freedom and inter-religious cooperation, we are deeply troubled by the xenophobia and religious bigotry that has characterized some of the opposition to a proposed Islamic center and mosque near where the World Trade Center towers once stood.

Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House, is the most recent prominent opponent to cast this debate in a way that demonizes all Muslims and exploits fear to divide Americans. “It is a sign of their contempt for Americans and their confidence in our historic ignorance that they would deliberately insult us this way,” Gingrich said in a statement. Sarah Palin called plans for the center a “provocation.” Fox News has aired a steady stream of irresponsible commentary and biased coverage that reduces what should be a civil debate into starkly combative terms.

The profound tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001 revealed the horror that can unfold when a small minority of violent extremists manipulates religious language for political gain and falsely claims to represent one of the world’s great religions. We have witnessed this sinful corruption of religion across faith traditions throughout history and must condemn it without equivocation whenever or wherever it occurs. However, we fail to honor those murdered on that awful day – including Muslim Americans killed in the Twin Towers and Pentagon – by betraying our nation’s historic commitment to religious liberty, fueling ugly stereotypes about Islam and demeaning the vast majority of Muslims committed to peace. The proposed mosque would be part of Cordoba House, a center open to all Americans that will provide Islamic, interfaith and secular programs. The project aims to support “integration, tolerance of difference and community cohesion through arts and culture,” according to the Cordoba Initiative, which promotes improved “Muslim-West relations.” These are exactly the kind of efforts that foster dialogue, break down barriers and begin to build a world where religiously inspired violent extremism is less likely.

Mr. Gingrich, Ms. Palin and other prominent voices privileged to have the ear of the media would make a more lasting contribution to our nation if they stopped issuing inflammatory statements and instead helped inspire a civil dialogue between Christians, Jews and Muslims committed to a future guided by the principles of compassion, justice and peace. Fear-mongering and hateful rhetoric only undermine treasured values at the heart of diverse faith traditions and our nation’s highest ideals.

The Rev. Canon Peg Chemberlin

President, National Council of Churches

Executive Director, Minnesota Council of Churches

The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon

General Secretary

National Council of Churches

The Rev. Dr. Ken Brooker Langston

Director, Disciples Justice Action Network

Coordinator, Disciples Center for Public Witness

The Rev. Chloe Breyer

Executive Director

The Interfaith Center of New York

Lisa Sharon Harper

Executive Director

New York Faith and Justice

Simon Greer

President and CEO

Jewish Funds for Justice

Rabbi Joy Levitt

Executive Director

Jewish Community Center in Manhattan

Rabbi Marc Schneier

President

The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding

Rabbi Richard Hirsh

Executive Director

Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association

Rabbi Irwin Kula

President

CLAL – National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership

Rabbi Abie Ingber

Founding Director

Interfaith Community Engagement

Xavier University

Cincinnati, Ohio

Jeremy Ben-Ami

President

J Street

Salam Al-Marayati

President

Muslim Public Affairs Council

Mohamed Elsanousi

Director of Community Outreach

Islamic Society of North America

Rabbi Nancy Fuchs Kreimer

Associate Professor

Director, Department of Multifaith Studies and Initiatives

Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

Rabbi Gerald Serotta

Clergy Beyond Borders

Virginia Avniel Spatz

Program Director

Clergy Beyond Borders

Sister Mary Waskowiak, RSM

President

Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas

Sister Simone Campbell, SSS

Executive Director

NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby

Sister Marlene Weisenbeck, FSPA

President

Leadership Conference of Women Religious

David Robinson

Executive Director

Pax Christi USA

Marie Dennis

Director

Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Co-President Pax Christi International

T. Michael McNulty, SJ

Justice and Peace Director

Conference of Major Superiors of Men

John Esposito

University Professor & Founding Director

Prince Alwaleed Bin-Talal

Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding

Georgetown University

John Zoll

Associate Director

Prince Alwaleed Bin-Talal

Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding

Georgetown University

James E. Hug, S.J.

President

Center of Concern

Sister Maria Riley, OP

Senior Advisor

Center of Concern

Rabbi J. Rolando Matalon

Congregation B’nai Jeshurun

New York, NY

Rabbi Brant Rosen

Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation

Evanston, IL

Rabbi Sue Levy

Houston, Texas

Rabbi Dev Noily

Oakland, CA

Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman

Congregation Shaarei Shamayim

Madison, WI

Paul Lakeland

Professor of Catholic Studies

Director, Center for Catholic Studies

Fairfield University

Thomas J. Reese, S.J.

Senior Fellow

Woodstock Theological Center

Georgetown University

Robin Darling Young

Associate Professor

Department of Theology

University of Notre Dame

Alex Mikulich

Research Fellow

Jesuit Social Research Institute

Loyola University, New Orleans

Stephen Schneck

Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies

Catholic University of America

David J. O’Brien

Professor Emeritus of History

University of Dayton

Terrence W. Tilley

Professor of Catholic Theology

Chair, Theology Department

Fordham University

Bronx, New York

Nicholas P. Cafardi

Dean Emeritus and Professor of Law

Duquesne University School of Law

Jeannine Hill Fletcher

Associate Professor of Theology

Fordham University

Lew Daly

Senior Fellow

Demos

Francis Schüssler Fiorenza

Stillman Professor

Harvard Divinity School

John Renard

Professor of Theological Studies

Saint Louis University

Bradford E. Hinze

Professor of Theology

Fordham University

Bronx, New York

Sandra A. Yocum

Chair of Religious Studies

University of Dayton

David DeCosse

Director of Campus Ethics Programs

Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Santa Clara University

Elena G. Procario-Foley

Professor of Jewish-Catholic Studies

Chair, Religious Studies Department

Iona College

Affiliations listed for identification purposes only.

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