I was sitting next to a gentleman on the plane between Salt Lake City and Denver last week as he rambled on about hedge funds and paperwork to his business partner. I was very road weary (and perhaps a bit hungover) from the evening before. It was a business trip with two other co-workers for a tech company out there. A new project always brings with it a sense of hope and excitement, but this one took it to the next level. But sitting next to the window on a very crowded flight with a guy who would not shut up about his ex wives (yes, plural) and the supposed ineptitude of his female staff was more than a bit draining. I wanted desperately to nap, as ours was the first flight out of Salt Lake City.
I pulled out my phone and began reading the cached tweets that I had downloaded just prior to takeoff. Particularly when on a hectic travel schedule, Twitter is the last thing I think to check, and not having Internet for the short flight meant that I wanted to at least grab a snapshot of what everyone was talking about. As usual, most of it was fluff and re-tweeting celebrities. No offense to those I follow on Twitter, but I felt a bit let down. In the middle of all of that were headlines about the proposed mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
Rewind to the afternoon before. We were walking around downtown Salt Lake City on Temple Square. This area is home to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more commonly referred to as the Mormons. Having grown up in rural west Tennessee, I do not recall having ever met a Mormon. At least, if they were Mormon, they certainly did not advertise it. I do not even recall meeting any devout Catholics until moving to Nashville. Faith in small-town America is as deep as it is illogical at times. Even the protestant denominations have their own backbiting against one another, barely acknowledging their common bonds while focusing on their differences. Where you spent that hour on Sunday morning was important to the fate of your eternal soul, which is why I spent most of those hours in bed after leaving the region. I wanted to make sure my soul was well-rested.
Downtown Salt Lake City is a beautiful area, even if I felt a little uneasy walking through the quasi-Vatican of a faith that is not my own. I was a certainly a stranger in a strange land, as young men and women with missionary name badges walked around the walled courtyard. We tried our best to keep any political incorrectness to ourselves. After all, we were guests and our humor was lighthearted. These men and women deserve to practice their faith in any way they see fit, and it only serves to broaden the greatness of their city.
A few people in Murfreesboro, Tennessee see things a bit differently. From The Tennessean
Collier Hopson drove his pickup to the vigil. In the back was a plywood sign bearing the spray-painted words "No Mosque."
He said that local Christians have a right to build churches. But mosques should be banned, he said.
"I don't support their beliefs," he said. "No one wants them here."
Standing in front of the pickup, Kimberly Kelly agreed. She said she is afraid of Muslims and that the violence from Iraq and other countries could come to Murfreesboro.
She said if the fire at the mosque site was arson as many suspect, Muslims deserved it.
"I think it was a piece of their own medicine," she said. "They bombed our country."
I read that last quote at least five times, hoping that with each reading I could find a different interpretation of Ms. Kelly's words. But I am not naive enough to find the best in everything, and I know that she meant it exactly as it sounds. An entire faith with more than 1.5 billion followers was responsible for what can only be assumed to be the events of September 11, 2001. And because of that, somebody was perfectly justified in committing arson to intimidate them.
I am going to go out on a limb here and say that Ms. Kelly and Mr. Hopson are good people. I do not seek to discredit them personally. But what I will say is that the level of ignorance and its close cousin intolerance that both of these individuals spewed off to the newspaper reporter is breathtaking. Perhaps there is something in their past that at least rationalizes their sentiments, but I doubt it. I begin to wonder if either of these two Tennesseans ever really grasped the whole "Love Thy Neighbor" thing. Perhaps their church had a few asterisks next to that one in the Holy Bible to exempt them from loving their Muslim neighbors. I have looked -- mine does not.
Do either of these people ever talk to anyone that has a faith other than their own? What would happen if it came up in conversation? Would they snap out of their southern hospitality -- something I would much rather rural Tennessee be known for than bigotry -- and start shouting and cursing? Would they do that to a woman and her children? How can anyone maintain that level of hatred towards the person who may live next door? I certainly do not have answers to any of those, but a man from Galilee had an easy one. He said, simply, to love thy neighbor. And for those that proclaim to follow him, they do not get the luxury of appending exceptions to that rule.
We live in a free country, and that means men and women risk their lives each and every day protecting the rights of Kimberly Kelly and Collier Hopson to say and feel how they will about their neighbors down in Murfreesboro. And I believe strongly in their right to say it, even though I could not disagree more with their sentiments. But our laws and our conscience do not protect the cowards who would destroy property and intimidate people in order to force their beliefs upon them, or chase them out of their city. They are becoming the very monsters that they believe that they are trying to keep out of Murfreesboro, and I say a small prayer that they arrive to that conclusion very soon. I fear that we may soon hear of further violence from our neighbors to the south, perpetrated in the name of a man who spoke peace and against a people who mean no harm.
No matter how many times we are featured on The Daily Show, this could quickly become no laughing matter.