“Are you for or against the Ground Zero Mosque?” This is a question I’ve recently received with some frequency. What does it mean to be “for” it? What does it mean to be “against” it? Why do I think, being a United Methodist from Shreveport, Louisiana, that I should have an opinion in the first place? I choose to answer this question with three different responses. Footnotes to follow.
2. First, show me a coin.
3. 641 is a prime number
Ok, now for the footnotes. My first response, false, is my way of saying that this question, “Are you for or against the Ground Zero Mosque,” isn’t the right question to ask. It creates a false dichotomy. It assumes that you can either be “for” it or “against” it. Never mind the fact that it’s not a Mosque, nor is it at Ground Zero. Isn’t this question a slice of our contemporary partisan society? We are so eager to make camps into which we organize our friends and our enemies, and there is no compromise. It seems that disagreement naturally leads to divorce or a complete severing of relationship. If this were a true and right and holy way to commune, each week I would only be serving communion to myself, which misses the point.
So, answer number two. I haven’t been in biz long, but I’ve been pastoring long enough to know when the most appropriate response is “First, show me a coin,” meaning that the persons asking the question aren’t really interested in an answer as much as entrapment. For these folks, it doesn’t really matter if I am “for” or “against” because both positions carry a formidable amount of baggage, which can be used as projectiles should the situation take a terrible turn.
Third answer: 641 is a prime number. So what does it mean to be for it? What does it mean to be against it. Closer to the contextual point, “What does it mean to you if I say I am for it?” “What does it mean to you if I say I am against it?”
Imagine a machine consisting only of dominoes. This machine’s job is to figure out if 641 is a prime number. Let’s assume that there is a row of red dominoes, which, if they fall, means that the machine has deduced that 641 is a prime number. If the red dominoes do not fall, then the machine has “figured out” that 641 is not a prime number. Let’s say a bistander is observing the dominoes and notices that the red dominoes fall. She asks, “Why did the red dominoes fall?”
Answer A: Because the dominoes in front of the red ones fell, thus causing the red dominoes to fall.
Answer B: Because 641 is a prime number.
I say this because questions such as these are often asked in the realm of Answer A. People want a “Yes” or “No,” in order to see if my dominoes are arranged in the “correct” pattern. They are not concerned with the larger realities, whether or not the way the dominoes are falling actually means something. They are only concerned that the dominoes are falling according to the way they traditionally ought to fall. In other words, there is a “right” way and a “wrong” way for the dominoes to fall.
See, the problem with Answer A is that it’s really not an answer at all because you are left with the obvious question, “Then why did the black domino which hit the red domino fall, and why did the domino before that fall . . .” and so on and so forth. The answer is the same and it doesn’t tell you anything, really. My fear is that saying I am for the Mosque or against the Mosque will be the end of the discussion. I am either a friend or an enemy. I have nothing to contribute and we have nothing to learn. Will my dominoes fall or won’t they?
“Are you for or against the Ground Zero Mosque,” is just not a helpful question. A much better question would be, “Have you been across the street to the Islamic Association of Arabia, which is right on Broadmoor’s doorstep to form a relationship with those who worship there?” Until we can answer affirmatively, I’m not sure we’ve gained the right to have an opinion on this issue.
There’s more to investigate such as, “How is it that something is ‘right’ or ‘wrong,'” and “Why do I feel the need to always have an enemy,” but I’m going to walk across the street.