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New York is a beacon, Rev. J. Kirk van der Swaagh, Neighborhood Church of Greenwich Village

I commend Mayor Bloomberg for his impassioned defense of religious liberty. His tracing out of the stifling of worship in our city was illuminating and places the current debate in its proper context. The perpetrators of 9/11 made a bold and deadly assertion as to the nature of God and what it means to serve [...]

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Bleecker Street church that specializes in the arts.

I commend Mayor Bloomberg for his impassioned defense of religious liberty. His tracing out of the stifling of worship in our city was illuminating and places the current debate in its proper context. The perpetrators of 9/11 made a bold and deadly assertion as to the nature of God and what it means to serve him. To what extent they reflect the tenets of Islam (Mr. Bloomberg argues emphatically that they do not) I am not prepared to state, but the only way such assertions can be countered is by examining such claims openly and honestly.

Christians should not be afraid of such dialogue. It is my conviction that the doctrines of Christianity, including the virgin birth, resurrection, and deity of Christ, the redeeming work that he accomplished, and the belief that the Triune God revealed in Scripture is the one, true, and living God, are to be openly promoted and contended for. This requires that I join every effort, including Mayor Bloomberg’s, to maintain a society in which religious tolerance and free speech are cherished.

Christianity is a religion based upon people being persuaded as to the truthfulness of its claims. The gospel writer, John, collected many eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ ministry and published them so that the public could read for themselves and make up their own minds. He put it this way at the end of chapter 20 of his gospel: “These are

Christians' experience of persecution & martyrdom is a good reason to support freedom of religion.

written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

Frankly, when John’s own example of free, public discussion has been forgotten, we have gone down some very deadly paths of our own. Therefore, for at least our own ethical healthiness, we must support the Mayor in his call for the freedom of a particular worshipping community to build a building.

Though others may not be want to hear this, I would further assert that Christians who are vehemently opposed to the building of the mosque for fear it desecrates “holy ground” have put their US citizenship ahead of their heavenly one. Such nationalistic sentiments need to be checked at times lest we enter into a form of idolatry. Civil religion is no more accepted by God than any other form of paganism.

So, I also didn’t embrace the kind of one-God-fits-all interfaith services promoted after the 9/11 attacks. Such services are demeaning to every religion represented. Let’s be honest about and respectfully debate our differences rather than saying that our differences don’t make any difference. We do not need to promote meaninglessness in order to engage one another religiously and with neighborliness. If we want to be able to openly preach about Jesus Christ, then let others preach Muhammad. We should welcome the debate if we are confident in the truth of our faith.

I am a proud resident of this city and, like the Mayor, believe that New York is particularly unique in its ability to be welcoming to all. I fear that forces from without, not understanding the hospitality of our city, have strong-armed the debate, causing a national mood to override local realities. It is just these unique local characteristics that make New York a beacon for so many. It is ironic that people from other nations see this more readily than some from our own.

For more information about the Neighborhood Church of Greenwich Village @ 269 Bleecker Street. 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 and the mosque controversies. OpEds do not necessarily reflect the views of A Journey .

15 Responses to “New York is a beacon, Rev. J. Kirk van der Swaagh, Neighborhood Church of Greenwich Village” Leave a reply ›

  • Peggy Wireman DOT: Park 51 would place a mosque near ground zero on sacred
    ground.

    FACT 1:.The proposed project is not a mosque but a community
    center which would include a swimming pool, a basketball court, a culinary
    ...school and places for worship by followers of the Christian, Jewish and Islamic
    faith.

    FACT 2: The “sacred ground” on that block or within a block
    includes an Off-Track Betting facility and a strip club. There is a mosque
    within four blocks of ground zero that has been there for many years.

    QUESTION: How far do the opponents want the community center
    moved?

    COMMENT WORTH LISTENING TO: A stripper who works a block away in a club and bar which has been there
    for four decades volunteered in the recovery effort. She lost eight firefighter friends from the Brooklyn
    firehouse near her home at the time.

    Her observation, “THE PEOPLE WHO DID IT ARE NOT GOING TO THE MOSQUE.”

    Lets Connect The Dots @ facebook.com

  • You are servicing a great need in this city. The religion news is mostly stale and besides the point. You routinely show the vitality of faith in NYC and the resources that faith-based groups provide. Seldom do I read this in the papers. And when I do read something about faith in the papers, it is often not too usable. I appreciate their coverage of tragedies and watchdog aspects. But really, the WSJ covers Gwenneth Paltrow's coming out as a Kabbalist in the Hamptons? I guess it fits their audience but it doesn't really give their audience a grip on what is happening here in the city.

    The Times sometimes does an excellent job but I don't see where they have any strategy for covering faith. Maybe, I just haven't put their stories together. I get the sense that they don't have a real vision of how faith really fits into people's lives and the city's development. It is like they land on the moon, take some samples and send back a report.

  • Thank you for the encouragement. The other media have their strengths and weaknesses. We hope that we make the best of our tiny resources and add something to the media coverage our city that is missing from other outlets. We admire the work of reporters like David Gonzalez and Andrea Elliot who have covered religion from time to time. They challenge us too!

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