Faith Works 8-21-10
The Church Is Not a Building (Nor Is a Mosque)
The Lad and I just got back from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where we and our Scout troop got to hike all over, and I do mean all over, the historic battlefield.
This was my sixth or seventh time to Gettysburg, the first time in 1973 on a family vacation, in the back of a Country Squire wagon with the flip seats in the rear and my grandmother among the seven of us in that car. It was that kind of trip. We stayed in two motel rooms, and walked down the street to the old brick visitor center, centrally located, where I pushed Grandma Gill around in a helpfully provided wheelchair.
Now, the visitor center has moved to a new facility, set back away from the Copse of Trees and The Angle, the heart of Union lines where the vast Confederate charge on the third day of the battle surged and broke, leaving only the memory of Pickett's Charge as a high water mark for Lee's rebel army. The wide mile those Virginians and North Carolinians marched across under steady fire are still very much as they looked in July of 1863, with only a few marble and granite monuments to signal where certain units stood and fought and died.
And just to one side, a brightly colored sign for Pickett's Buffet, where they serve all you can eat style meals of an evening.
For years, people have bemoaned the presence, right up on the edge of the NPS managed battlefield, of this more than mildly tacky attraction, and the three fast food chain outlets that march in their own way back into town. "That shouldn't be here" is often said.
There's a solution to this, of course, and that's for someone to buy it and tear it down. The story around Gettysburg is that the owner would sell in a heartbeat, but for a price far beyond what the federal government or the historic foundation wants to pay. He's making good money serving up fried chicken, ham, and prime rib on Fridays, alongside pans full of mashed potatoes and overcooked carrots, so there it sits, right next to the site of its namesake event.
Eminent domain would apply, but no governmental entity has wanted to take that step, which would require a calculation of what all those meals and tips are worth along with the land, and compensation be paid to the landowner, while the tax revenue for those wings and legs and make your own sundaes would go away as well.
Is it really "an offense," as I've heard a number of folks say, to have this restaurant, or a set of golden arches, or any other frivolity, food-wise, that close to the center of the battlefield? If it were in the path of Pickett's Charge, surely; if directly adjoining, perhaps; nearby…? Well, what is that, anyhow? And another block along is a shop where you can get a Confederate flag tattooed on your arm, or elsewhere. I'm mildly put off by that, myself.
So of course I'm thinking about the "mosque" debate in Manhattan. Within the now "official" two block radius of Ground Zero for recalling 9-11, there are peep shows and strip clubs. And a Sufi Moslem group wants to build a community center and prayer room there, which meets the general description of mosque.
Should they be able to? Of course they should. Should Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, the only place of worship destroyed on 9-11 in the collapse of Tower 2, be allowed to rebuild near their original site, and should the city and Port Authority quit trying to nudge them off Manhattan and onto an obscure location rather than facilitate their restoration next to the site? Absolutely.
Are politicians and fundraisers for polemical ground demagoguing this issue shamelessly, with little attention to the facts? Beyond a doubt. Do most Americans think it's the right of a religious group to build any worship facility wherever they want?
Now THIS is the point where the debate won't go away. Anyone who's tried to build a church in a zoned municipality knows that neither Christian nor Moslem or anything else isn't getting you a short cut, and in fact may create roadblocks as neighbors ask "are there bells? Will you feed the homeless? There won't be a daycare in the building, will there?"
What has gotten folks worked up is the idea that a) this Islamic group may have gotten special consideration to fast-track their project, and b) the mosque or whatever it is will be finished before the WTC memorial will be done, let alone the new tower that will stand in its place. It feels wrong, and that's not racism or hate or unconstitutional concern.
If the Orthodox church had been cleared for construction and the Freedom Tower was done and the dedication for a memorial was scheduled for 9-11-2010, we'd not hardly hear a peep about these plans for 2011. I hope the mosque gets built, but those who wish it were somewhere else have my sympathy and understanding.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him about your travels at email@example.com or follow Knapsack @Twitter.