The New York City “mosque debate” is in the headlines again this morning. As you know, developers want to construct a 13 story Islamic center complete with a pool, gymnasium and mosque two blocks from the World Trade Center site. Government officials (including the President) and average citizens have all weighed in on the controversy. The headlines today say that the debate is dividing even Democrats from New York.
The argument for the development focuses on the rights of all Americans to worship as they see fit. The argument against the project recognizes the rights of these individuals to construct such a place of worship but questions the wisdom of doing so at that location. Clearly, survivors and the families of those lost on September 11th see this as a poor decision and long for peace to reign near that site.
As I was thinking through the personal, social and political ramifications of this decision, I thought of the passage of scripture in I Corinthians 10. Starting in verse 23, Paul begins to make a strong case for the believer’s freedom in Christ. The discussion centers on what the first century Christian can eat. As a believing Jew, can they eat things not allowed under Levitical law? He sums up the New Covenant perspective with the clear teaching, “Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for ‘the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.'” (I Cor. 10: 27 quoting Psalm 24:1)
In route to that conclusion, Paul makes a great introductory statement in the two previous verses. He says, “Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible, but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.” (I Cor. 10:23-24)
In our vernacular, we might say: “You can do it, but it might not be wise. Consider the impact on others and choose, by an act of your will, to accomplish good for everyone else, not just for yourself. You have rights, but they should not always be expressed or demanded. Look out for the other guy!”
With that logic in mind, I think that even though the developers have a right to place the mosque there, they should choose not to. Move it somewhere else in New York City and respect the needs of those who lost so much that tragic day.
But maybe more importantly, you and I ought to stop this week and consider this Biblical principle for our own lives. Instead of camping on our rights in any given situation or relationship, let’s take to heart Paul’s injunction and instead seek the good of others.
You may have a right to be angry, but you do not have to express it. You may have a right to be heard, but you might choose to listen instead. You may have a right to rest, play, be annoyed, frustrated or hurt, but you could reign in your rights and instead intentionally accent your responsibilities to the other guy.
Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial. Remember too that love always covers a multitude of sins!