An Evangelical’s Sacred Ground

In summer 2010, a few blocks from Ground Zero, my values were under attack too.

I can still see the image vividly: a white poster board decorated with red and blue markers, as if to suggest its message was patriotic:“All I need to know about Islam I learned on 9/11.”Eboo Patel’s new book, Sacred Ground, revisits the scene of Cordoba House to frame a discussion on pluralism and interfaith leadership in America. Eboo offers apt perspective as an American Muslim and director of Interfaith Youth Core, but the discourse that took place around Park Place that summer is not only important for Muslims and interfaith activists.I am an Evangelical Christian, and there is something personal for me at stake in the midst of bigotry that deals precisely with my religious identity. I deliberated over that identity for a time but realized that “evangelical” best describes my understanding of what it means to respond to the Christian gospel and emulate the example of Christ.Yet some of the loudest voices of intolerance call themselves Evangelicals too. Earlier this month, Pat Robertson blamed atheists for the shooting at the Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek. This spring Bryan Fischer publicly attacked the Romney campaign for hiring a gay man. After 9/11, Jerry Fallwell pointed his finger wildly at a wide variety of people who didn’t believe the same things he did.


Yet they call themselves Evangelical Christians.In Sacred Ground, Eboo notes the influence of the evangelical masses in American politics, suggesting that “when Evangelicals change, America changes.” And in many ways he’s right – he cites the Evangelical-led anti-Catholic movement of the 1960 election and draws parallels to present-day islamophobia, which in many ways is led by Evangelical figures.But Evangelicals aren’t a hopeless bunch. That’s why, on the occasions I’ve talked to Christians about interfaith cooperation, I often start with a picture of that man standing on Park Place in lower Manhattan, holding the handwritten sign in blue and red marker.And I ask my fellow Evangelicals: “Is this what you believe?”There is a simple, profound reason why it’s not what I believe. It’s because of relationships. It’s because of working with Muslims in my community to do things like feed the hungry and provide healthcare to the uninsured. And there’s precedence for this, as Eboo notes: relationships between Evangelicals and Catholics explain the shift that has changed attitudes about Catholicism since the 1960’s. But even deeper and more historic than 1960’s America is the example of Jesus Christ: the ethic of loving your neighbor.

I’m thankful for the Evangelical leaders who are setting interfaith relationships as a priority for the Evangelical tradition, from Gabe Lyons, who has created dialogue with the Imam behind Park51, to Jim Wallis and the staff at Sojourners. Not to mention Skye JethaniNicholas PriceBob Roberts and many others who are leading the change.

My prayer is that Evangelical Christianity can shed the rhetoric of criticism and judgment and regain a reputation as a tradition centered on relationships, first our relationship with God, then relationships with neighbors of all traditions. This is why, for Evangelicals, all ground is sacred ground: we’re called always and everywhere to a tradition of relationships that is as old as the Evangelical tradition itself.

This piece was originally posted on the Interfaith Youth Core’s blog.

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