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New York is a place of freedom of religion & tolerance, but trust must be earned, Bishop Joe Mattera, Christ Covenant Coalition

      [We have asked religious leaders with congregations or church affiliates near Ground Zero to respond to Mayor Bloomberg’s speeches on religion and religious freedom in the city. Bishop Mattera overseas Christian Action Coalition that includes churches near Ground Zero. He is also senior pastor at Resurrection Church in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. The […]

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Shiite Muslims' public devotion to a martyr of 670 AD as a symbol of overcoming spiritual darkness is a startling sight in Manhattan but similar to other religions' honoring of their martyrs.

[We have asked religious leaders with congregations or church affiliates near Ground Zero to respond to Mayor Bloomberg's speeches on religion and religious freedom in the city. Bishop Mattera overseas Christian Action Coalition that includes churches near Ground Zero. He is also senior pastor at Resurrection Church in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. The Bishop's new book Kingdom Awakening will be out October 1. Opeds do not necessarily reflect the views of A Journey.]

I applaud Mayor Bloomberg’s speech on the importance of the constitutional right of religious freedom to America and New York City. The fact that this great city has inhabitants speaking in over two hundred tongues about different religions  from well over one hundred nations attests to the fact that our city is the metropolitan center of the world! A New Yorker doesn’t have to travel to other nations to experience the richness of cultural diversity, which enables all of us to broaden our perspectives socially, religiously, economically and even militarily.

The most important thing that stands out in this speech is the fact that the Mayor seems to have evolved in his perspective regarding the importance of religious institutions for the well-being and soul of our region. I have never before observed such an impassioned speech -– especially regarding religion--from our mayor! Perhaps he has witnessed first hand that a city of our size could not continue to be sustained without the faith based communities and congregations, who have thousands of volunteers who help the needy, turn out honest hard working citizens with godly values, and pray continually for the wellbeing of our city and nation. (I speak especially for congregations that I work closely with - those with a Judeo-Christian worldview based on the Old and New Testament that admonish us to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God --  read Micah 6:8, Amos 5:24, Matthew 22:37-40 and Luke 10: 29-37.)

My own community of one hundred and seventy thousand residents in Sunset Park , Brooklyn would be in a terrible state if it were not for the faith based nonprofits  (like the evangelical founded Children of the City and Turning Point or the Catholic Center for Family Life). These local compassion efforts feed and clothe the poor, educate hundreds of children, teach parenting skills, provide family counseling and job training, visit hundreds of homes to assess specific family needs, rehabilitate those with addictions, and house those dying with AIDS.

Regarding the controversy surrounding the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque,” I don’t think anybody who loves this country would dispute the intellectual arguments provided by our Mayor regarding the first amendment right of the freedom of religion and speech. However, as the Mayor the terrorist attacks against our city were an act of war by those who claim to follow Islam.

Though the Mayor claims that the attacks violate Islam, many Muslim and non-Muslim scholars believe that the teachings of the Koran compel some to wage holy war (Jihad) for the spread of Islam! The over whelming majority of terrorist threats against our security come from those who claim to be following the religion of Islam.

Further exacerbating the situation, audio recordings recently surfaced that appear to record the “Ground Zero Mosque’s” Imam Feisal saying that the United States has shed more blood against Muslims then the Taliban and that the U.S. shares some of the responsibility for the 9/11 attacks.

We should not allow this Muslim worship center to be built unless its leaders prove that their funding is not coming from nations and organizations linked to terrorism, publically repudiate all terrorist organizations like Hamas (they must name them one by one because Muslim extremists don’t consider organizations like Hamas as a terrorist organization), explain their interpretation of certain portions of the Koran that call for violence against non –believers  and renounce the imposition of Sharia law upon our citizens.

I have Muslim friends, and the majority of them are peace loving and wonderful citizens. Western civilization is at war against a radical ideology that not only has a religious component –but also a geo-political component that promotes hate against all of us here in the city and the destruction of our way of life!

An additional note on why hate crimes against Muslims are bad

One of the greatest fears I have since the controversy erupted with the Ground Zero Mosque is that there would be unstable people who would begin to act violently against Muslims because of their frustration.  Recently, an innocent Muslim cab driver was slashed in the head and neck.* A few days later a man entered a mosque and urinated on their sacred prayer rugs. While I am opposed to the building of the Muslim center at ground zero,  my duty as a Christian and a citizen of this great city is to love and serve all my neighbors –including my Muslim neighbors. Furthermore, as a Christian, I welcome the immigration of Muslims to this country and city because it gives me an opportunity to share the gospel with them in a free environment!

When we repay evil for evil, we not only violate biblical teachings (Read Romans 12:17-21), but we also exacerbate the problem and only create more hate between Muslim and non Muslim- thus paving the way for terrorists to justify their actions and recruit even more terrorists! Our enemy is not Muslims, but the demonic forces of evil behind those who violently oppose freedom of religion and our right to co-exist. Consequently, Christians should be praying for the salvation and peace of our people so that the violent extremism on both sides doesn’t erupt and cause chaos in our city!

* The New York Times reported that the slasher Michael Enright " is also a volunteer with Intersections International, an initiative of the Collegiate Churches of New York that promotes justice and faith across religions and cultures. The organization, which covered part of Mr. Enright’s travel expenses to Afghanistan, has been a staunch supporter of the Islamic center near ground zero. Mr. Enright volunteered with the group’s veteran-civilian dialogue project.

Joseph Ward III, the director of communications for Intersections, said that if Mr. Enright had been involved in a hate crime, it ran “counter to everything Intersections stands for” and was shocking."

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