Debate over the so-called Ground Zero mosque, followed by the inflammatory press attention paid to Pastor Terry Jones's threat to burn Qur'ans on September 11, has stirred an excess of angst over the Muslim presence in America. Opportunists have exploited that anxiety for political advantage. The overheated debate may be moot: while the legal standing of the planned Muslim community center is solid, its financing is reportedly shaky.
What is not settled is the place of Muslims in American society. Anxiety about Islam has spread in response to proposed mosques in Wisconsin, California, and Tennessee, where an arsonist set construction equipment ablaze. Muslims who wish to build places of prayer meet resistance, both violent and verbal. How should American Christians respond?
Twenty years ago, Terry Muck, then CT's executive editor, wrote presciently about the presence of world religions in America. In Alien Gods on American Turf, he noted that the 1980s influx of Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists caused little concern. Nevertheless, Muck observed that "the strain of this diversity" was moving Christians who were traditionally "bedrock supporters" of religious freedom to begin questioning the limits of First Amendment guarantees. "Ten or twenty years from now," he warned, "the full force of non-Christian religions will be felt."
Just 11 years later, terrorists from Islam's Wahhabist fringe attacked the Pentagon, destroyed the World Trade Center, and created an acute awareness of Islam's adherents in the United States.
Muck did not foresee 9/11, but he was certain that the relative invisibility of non-Christian religions would evaporate. He urged American Christians ...