Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the man behind the Islamic center and mosque near ground zero, managed to persuade some centrist evangelicals this week to endorse his interfaith peacemaking initiative.
Leaders of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good – which includes former National Association of Evangelicals vice president Richard Cizik and Mercer University Christian ethics professor David Gushee – said they embrace Rauf’s peacemaking initiative with “all our hearts.”
“We see it as especially impressive in light of the hatred and bigotry currently being directed against the Muslim community, Cordoba House, and Imam Abdul Rauf himself,” they stated in an announcement Thursday.
“We say to Imam Rauf: thank you for your kind peacemaking initiative. We accept your invitation to make Cordoba House a symbol of reconciliation – over against the violence of 9/11, and over against all who would use 9/11 to foster religious conflict,” the evangelical group added.
The New Evangelical Partnership leaders said they will contact Rauf to discuss how they can be directly involved in developing the interfaith peacemaking efforts of Park51.
“We support you project,” they said. “You are in our prayers during this very difficult time.”
The statement was in response to an op-ed that Rauf wrote for the New York Times, in which he reaffirmed the mission of the Cordoba House – also known as Park51 – to “strengthen relations between the Western and Muslim worlds and to help counter radical ideology.”
In Tuesday’s piece, the imam also said the center will include a separate prayer space for Muslims, Christians, Jews and people of other faiths, as well as a multi-faith memorial for the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks nine years ago.
Throughout his op-ed, Rauf emphasized the important role that interfaith peacemaking has played in his vision for Park51.
“Cordoba House will be built on the two fundamental commandments common to Judaism, Christianity and Islam: to love the Lord our creator with all of our hearts, minds, souls and strength; and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves,” Rauf wrote.
In an interview Wednesday with CNN’s Soledad O’Brien on “Larry King Live,” Rauf admitted having regrets in light of the controversy that the center has created, but said he cannot move it now because of national security reasons. If the center is moved, he argued, extremists will proclaim that Islam is under attack and use it as a recruiting tool.
"If this is not handled correctly, this crisis could become much bigger than the Danish cartoon crisis, which resulted in attacks on Danish embassies in various parts of the Muslim world,” the imam argued.
“If we don't handle this crisis correctly it could become something which could really become very, very, very dangerous indeed,” he added.
But Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, disagrees with Rauf and said he finds the argument “offensive.”
“I don’t think most Americans are willing to let religious zealots who don’t have any regard for human life to dictate to them in the United States what decision we are going to make about religious freedom and where places of worship are located,” Land told The Christian Post Friday.
The American Center for Law and Justice, which filed a lawsuit challenging the project, responded similarly.
"By interjecting the claim that our national security is at risk if the mosque is not built at that site is not only offensive to the 9/11 victims' families and friends, but to an overwhelming majority of Americans who don't want the mosque built at Ground Zero," remarked ACLJ chief counsel Jay Sekulow.
“The Imam continues to miss the point – Americans are tolerant, but Americans also understand this is not the place to build a mosque," he added.
According to a recent New York Times poll, two-thirds of New Yorkers want the Islamic center moved further away from ground zero even though most of them agree that the developers of the center have a right to build it.
Despite popular opinion, there are some groups that are actively backing the Ground Zero “megamosque.”
The American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Civil Liberties Union is supporting Park51 by launching bus ads that feature four images of the Park51 building – one with a cross, one with the Star of David, and one with an Islamic crescent and star – and asks, “Would there even be a controversy if this weren’t a mosque?”
At the bottom, the ad states, “In America, religious freedom knows no boundaries.”
“We hope these ads will remind people, as they are going about their daily lives, that freedom of religion is a core American value that needs to be fiercely defended, especially in times of controversy," said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the ACLU, in a statement. "Even in the wake of the horrendous events of 9/11, we must remember that discrimination only chips away at the very values we are striving to defend."
The ads supporting Park51 will run on the back of buses throughout New York City beginning Sept. 20.
The name Park51 comes from the location of the proposed Islamic center, which intends to set up shop at 45-51 Park Place, two blocks from the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.