by James M. Wall
If I were pastor of a local church, by now I would have installed a video player and a means to project a video in a darkened sanctuary.
Then I would be ready to share unexpected gifts of grace with my congregation, like this good-to-go “sermon” which arrived this weekend in video and print form.
Click here for the link to the White House official print (and video) version of the “sermon” President Barack Obama delivered to invited guests on August 13, during the annual White House Iftar (“breaking the fast”) evening meal.
The “sermon” runs under ten minutes. Here is part of what the President said:
Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country.That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances.
This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.”
His entire presentation should be shown in houses of worship, in classrooms, in community centers, or in homes during the final weeks of this month of Ramadan.
His remarks are delivered in Obama’s usual measured manner, passionate without being political, insistent without being demanding. It is powerful in the President’s usual low-keyed manner.
Ramadan began this year on August 11. It will conclude exactly one 30-day lunar month after it began, when the new moon is sighted. That sighting ushers in a three-day feast called Eid al-Fitr, the “Celebration of the Breaking of the Fast.”
Family and community Iftar evening meals, like the one Obama hosted at the White House, are held throughout Ramadan. In some communities, especially since 911, selected Iftar meals are celebrated as ecumenical events, to which guests from many religious communities are invited.
Local and state politicians have been known to attend, especially in those communities where there are substantial Muslim voting populations. My Republican congressional incumbent usually attends my local Iftar meal.
The use of President Obama’s “sermon” is appropriate because his comments address a moral issue that has come to the nation’s attention during recent political and media attacks on the Islamic community center. And it does so in the name of all religious faiths. In my book, that is a “sermon”.
The center will be built on private property at a cost of $100 million. It will include a mosque and will be located a few blocks from the site of the World Trade Center towers which were destroyed on that dark day of September 11, 2001. More than 3000 persons died on that day when the towers were attacked by hijacked jetliners
The construction of the center was strongly endorsed by New York Mayor Bloomberg on August 3 during an event on New York’s Governor’s Island. Mayor Bloomberg’s remarks (video and print) are available here.
The mayor’s website reported that during his talk the mayor “spoke about the importance of religious freedom and the great tradition of tolerance and diversity that has characterized New York City since its founding. He added:
I believe this is as important a test of the separation of church and state as any we may see in our lifetime – and it is critically important that we get it right.
The day after his Iftar speech, President Obama traveled to Florida where he received strong support for his endorsement of the Islamic center, from Florida’s outgoing Governor Charlie Crist, who is currently running for a US Senate seat.
Crist told ABC news, “I think [the President] is right – I mean you know we’re a country that in my view stands for freedom of religion and respect for others.”
With a nod to the recent political exploitation of the center, Crist added this political note: “I know there are sensitivities and I understand them.”
President Obama has been strongly criticized in recent months by Progressive Left bloggers, but the Iftar talk evoked praise from one of the major progressive bloggers, Glenn Greenwald, who wrote:
This is one of the most impressive and commendable things Obama has done since being inaugurated.
Obama’s critics from the conservative right were quick to condemn the president. Politicians, especially those running in November, the usual right wing media pundits and the Main Stream Media, have been eager to spin the construction of a religious center into that which it is not.
Many of these attacks focus on the emotional charge that the Islamic center represents an invasion of “sacred space”. In doing so, they exploit the anti-Muslim bias that has continued to blame one billion Muslims for the deeds of 19 radical Muslim hijackers.
The irony of this allegation, which is bogus, is that the Islamic community center will be build on a city street surrounded by commercial stores and one “strip club” common to major urban centers.
How wide a swath would the opponents of the center want to designate as “sacred space”? All of Lower Manhattan? The entire Manhattan area?
It is for this reason that it is especially important that the presentation of President Obama’s Iftar address be shared in religious communities, emphasizing our many different religious traditions in a nation that holds in common values that include respect and love for others, tolerance and a commitment to a power that sustains us all.
Religious communities must not allow the politicians and the media who want to exploit anti-Islamic sentiment for their own purposes, to control the public stage. Our corporate main stream media, and their more conservative allies in the blogosphere, are trying to ride anti-Islam bias for their own purposes.
They do a terrible disservice to the nation’s ability to think clearly about the issue, with their hideous bleating about “sacred space”, an emotional smokescreen designed to exploit fear and prejudice.
The proposed construction has brought opposition from leading Republican politicians, including Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich. In a surprising twist, the Jewish civil rights organization, the Anti-Defamation League, which usually supports freedom of religion, has opposed the Islamic center.
There is an antidote to all this hate-generated political talk, and it should be applied in our various religious communities. The antidote includes, among other documents, the Koran and both Christian and Jewish scriptures.
And now there is a good-to-go sermon by President Barack Obama.