Martin Luther King Jr. once said that time is neutral – it can be used either destructively or constructively.
The forces of intolerance in America have used the time since 9/11 to destroy the bonds of our diverse nation. They have established a well-funded, highly organized “Hate your Muslim Neighbor” campaign. They have best-selling books, highly trafficked websites, rallies that bring together thousands, speaker programs that reach tens of thousands, crisply divisive email campaigns that get forwarded around to millions.
They have defined the terms: “Ground Zero Mosque.” “Radical Imam.” “Muslim triumphalism.”
They have framed the debate. It’s simple in their minds: “Us vs. Them” is “Americans against Muslims.”
What we need now is a concerted “Love All Your Neighbors” campaign. Because, as Theodore McCarrick, Cardinal Emeritus of the Archdiocese of Washington, said “America was not built on hate.”
We have watched what the forces of intolerance can do. Let’s see now what the forces of inclusion can do.
Let’s invite to our pulpits, bimas and minbars speakers of other faiths. My friend Bob Roberts – a conservative Evangelical pastor in Texas – is doing just this at his Global Faith Forum, an impressive conference he’s organizing in November which will welcome a number of exceptional and unlikely speakers to his Northwood Church pulpit, from Prof. John Esposito to HRH Prince Turki Al Faisal, Former Saudi Arabia Ambassador to the USA.
Let’s demand that our nation’s top leaders tell the story of American tolerance and pluralism.
We know that Mayor Michael Bloomberg isn’t afraid to do this. In response to the controversy around Park 51, he said, “This nation was founded on the principle that the government must never choose between religions or favor one over another. The World Trade Center site will forever hold a special place in our city, in our hearts. But we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans if we said no to a mosque in lower Manhattan.”
Let’s train a critical mass of interfaith leaders on our college campuses – young people who can bring people from different faiths together in projects that serve others. Our Interfaith Youth Core Fellows on two dozen campuses across the country are in the midst of organizing interfaith initiatives around this issue to bring together their campus communities.
As Edmund Burke said, “All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” In the spirit of Martin Luther King, the forces of pluralism have to use this time constructively.
Let’s not be having this same conversation on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.