I read with shock about the protest outside of the new Mars Hill Church in Southeast Portland this past weekend. Twenty protesters gathered in front of the church, not only carrying banners, but -- more alarmingly -- shouting obscenities as churchgoers left their service. One woman yelled, "Shame on you bigots. You're not welcome here. You're going to burn in hell." Is this what Portland has degraded to? Harassing people leaving their house of worship?
The protesters were dressed in black and some wore handkerchiefs to cover their faces while shouting at adults and children. Their issue is with the new owners of the beautiful church -- fondly known as The Castle -- because of their public stance against homosexuality. Church leaders, including founder Mark Driscoll, have ruffled many feathers with their overt condemnation of homosexuality as a sin.
I understand that such teachings may offend people, but this does not at all justify the protest organized outside the church. Do children leaving this church need to hear such hatred and obscenity, especially by those covering their faces with handkerchiefs? Can such an incident ever have a positive effect on a child's young mind? What happened to civility? What happened to dialogue?
To be clear, as a Muslim, I do not endorse nor represent this church. In fact, Mars Hill founder Pastor Mark Driscoll has made insulting comments towards Muslims, as well. He has argued that Muslims do not worship the same God as Christians and that Christians should not participate in Muslim services. He argued that "to pray with Muslims absolutely dishonors Jesus."
So clearly I do not defend Driscoll or his beliefs, but we must remember the freedom of religion this great nation affords, which includes every religious organization's freedom to preach what it believes to be the truth, as long as it doesn't call for chaos and disorder in society. If all of us protested each theological disagreement we have, there would be hundreds of protests every day. This is not the way to handle disagreements, as it will lead to chaos and societal disturbance.
Religious groups have been speaking either for or against homosexuality for decades, so this protest is rather surprising. Speaking for my faith, Islam views homosexuality as a sin and against the Islamic way of life. This does not, however, mean that we hate the individual. Muslims are expected to behave with dignity and maintain law and order even if we find disagreement with others' behavior, tendencies or beliefs.
The Mars Hill Church's approach to preaching certainly leaves much to be desired. Announcing that its arrival in Portland is meant to save the city's sinners is the very reason that people are turned off by religion. I would advise church leaders to attract people, not to push people away. Seek common ground through love and understanding.
Peace and order of our city are of paramount importance. I ask people from both sides of the issue to seek reasonable, peaceful and civil ways to communicate with one another. Let us keep Portland diverse and keep it peaceful.
Originally published in The Oregonian on October 21, 2011.
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