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Churches plan vigils, decry Muslim-bashing

 
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2:00 P.M. EST Sept. 10, 2010

A  goblet rests in St. Paul’s Chapel located near ground zero in New York City. St. Paul’s Chapel, part of Trinity Episcopal Church, became a center for recovery efforts after 9/11. A web-only photo courtesy of Flickr/Creative Commons.
A goblet rests in St. Paul’s Chapel located near ground zero in New York City. St. Paul’s Chapel, part of Trinity Episcopal Church, became a center for recovery efforts after 9/11. A web-only photo courtesy of Flickr/Creative Commons.

United Methodists from New York to Florida are participating in peace vigils Friday night to promote religious understanding in the midst of the raging national controversy over Muslim relations.

The denomination’s Council of Bishops also added its voice on the eve of the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as emotions stoked by the debate about the building of a mosque and community center two blocks from ground zero and the attention-grabbing threats of Florida Pastor Terry Jones to burn the Quran reached a fever pitch.

As Jones held a press conference Friday morning at Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, the Rev. Dan Johnson, senior minister of Trinity United Methodist Church — a half mile away — prepared to host a “Gathering for Peace, Understanding and Hope” from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, in conjunction with the Gainesville Interfaith Forum.

In New York, members of St. Paul and St. Andrew, a United Methodist congregation in Manhattan, were among the organizers of a candlelight vigil planned Friday evening in lower Manhattan, sponsored by New York Neighbors for American Values, a coalition of civic, religious, civil liberties and civil rights organizations.

If Jones carries out his threat to burn Islam’s holy book on Sept. 11, the Massachusetts Bible Society, led by the Rev. Anne Robertson, a United Methodist, has said it will give away two copies of the Quran for every copy burned “to prisons, hospitals, shelters or to any place where there are Muslims without access to their sacred text.”

Even if the burning does not occur, the Bible Society will distribute a number of Qurans to those social service outlets, Robertson told United Methodist News Service on Friday. “We’ve gotten over a thousand dollars just in the first 24 hours (of the announcement) as people have donated specifically for that purpose,” she explained.

While Jones publicly wavered about his plans, the U.S. Department of State issued a travel alert cautioning “U.S. citizens of the potential for anti-U.S. demonstrations in many countries” in response to those plans.

‘Tensions run high’

The United Methodist Council of Bishops said the situation is a reminder “that the world we live in continues to be fragile place where emotions and tensions run high.”

A cross made out of steel beams from the wreckage of the World Trade Center Towers sits at ground zero in New York City in this 2006 file photo.  A UMNS file photo by John C. Goodwin.
A cross made out of steel beams from the wreckage
of the World Trade Center Towers sits at ground zero
in New York City in this 2006 file photo. A UMNS file photo
by John C. Goodwin.
View in Photo Gallery

In a statement released Thursday, the bishops recalled how, in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus wept for the holy city of Jerusalem “because the people did not know the things that make for peace.”

“We suspect he still weeps, looking out over the world we currently inhabit,” the bishops said.

Noting that September 11 should be a day of prayer and rebuilding relationships, the bishops declared “there is nothing of Jesus” in the action of burning the holy book of another tradition.

The White House applauded the council’s “thoughtful and emphatic statement” in an email response from D. Paul Monteiro, associate director, White House Office of Public Engagement.

“We continue to ask for your prayers and support to root out the seeds of violence and bigotry that others sometimes seek to sow,” he wrote.

From President Obama to Sarah Palin, the book-burning threats from Jones have drawn bi-partisan as well as multi-faith condemnation. In Gainesville, Johnson first became aware of the Dove World Outreach Center when the congregation began posting signs equating Islam with the devil.

He said he had never had much of a conversation with Jones, but drove over once this summer to talk to him before the public attention to his threat escalated. “I couldn’t get myself out of the car,” Johnson admitted. “Then they began wearing guns and that made me a little more anxious.”

Promoting understanding

But Johnson does appreciate the fact that concern over their hate-filled rhetoric led to the creation of the Gainesville Interfaith Forum. Friday’s “Gathering for Peace, Understanding and Hope” is designed to promote solidarity and understanding and to reach young people disenchanted with religion.

Students from Birmingham-Southern College, a United Methodist affiliated school, participate in a vigil following the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York in this file photo.  A UMNS photo courtesy of Birmingham-Southern College.
Students from Birmingham-Southern College, a United Methodist affiliated school, participate in a vigil following the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York in this file photo. A UMNS photo courtesy of Birmingham-Southern College.
View in Photo Gallery

The event will include art projects, places for prayer, reflection and conversation and five-minute talks on the half-hour by Muslim, Hindu and Christian speakers. Inside Trinity’s worship center, which seats 1,500 to 2,000, will stand tables holding breads from around the world. “We’ll break bread together as brothers and sisters,” Johnson said.

In New York, the Rev. James “K” Karpen, pastor of St. Paul and St. Andrew, said the congregation held an impromptu meeting after church on Aug. 29 to discuss what it could do to show support of Muslim brothers and sisters in the wake of the controversy over the building of the mosque and community center in lower Manhattan.

Their concern was not a surprise. Together with their Jewish partner, Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, St. Paul and St. Andrew has had a relationship with the Muslim leader at the center of the controversy, Iman Feisal Rauf, for nearly 10 years. Rauf has been scheduled to participate with the two congregations in a 9/11 memorial service at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at the church.

At the Friday vigil, members of St. Paul and St. Andrew will distribute a thousand candles donated by Buddhists and several churches, Karpen said.

“The focus is on people being there and saying by their presence that there’s a different vision among religious people for our country,” he added. “We need to support each other as people of faith.”

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at http://twitter.com/umcscribe.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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