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Rabbi Rami Shapiro Headshot

I'll See Your Cross and Raise You...?

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People attending the new Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, Tenn., will have to pass by 13 newly erected crosses on the grounds neighboring Grace Baptist Church. According to the Daily News Journal, three of the crosses, including the tallest one, stand for the Trinity and the other 10 represent the Great Commission given to the apostles by the resurrected Christ to evangelize the world (Matthew 28: 18-20).

While there is no equivalent statement in Islam, there should be no doubt that Islam, too, is a missionary faith. And while most Muslims and Christians probably play down the fact, missionizing the world is what both religions are about. Historically both have done so by the sword, though today (with some exceptions) persuasion is the preferred method of conversion.

What we have brewing in Murfressboro is a classic contest between two competing faiths. While many may find the crosses an affront to Islam, and while some within the Grace Baptist Church may even intend them to be such, the fact is we may be in for a good ol' American advertising war. Think of it as the religious equivalent of the great department store wars between Macy's and Gimbels in New York City. While Gimbels never had a huge nationwide presence, the publicity generated by its rivalry with Macy's raised its status far more than the store could have done on its own. Given that we are talking about a mosque in Murfreesboro rather than a church in Istanbul, I would link the Islamic Center to Gimbels. The more Grace Baptist trumpets Christianity over Islam, the more interesting and enticing Islam may become for people in the 'Boro.

An honest and passionate religious rivalry is good for both faiths. Each should put its best foot forward and make their case for why they are right and where the other is wrong. We can learn a lot about each religion from this. All I ask is that we don't allow a potentially educational and very American rivalry between "Macy's" and "Gimbles" to devolve into a violent yet no less American feud between Hatfields and McCoys.