(Photo: AP Images / Mark Lennihan)
In response to a proposed mosque blocks from ground zero, controversial televangelist Bill Keller announced on Tuesday that he plans to open a Christian center nearby.
"How do you battle the darkness? With the light!" he states on the 9/11 Christian Center at Ground Zero website.
Rather than hold protests over the Cordoba House – a 15-story facility that project leaders claim will promote tolerance, help improve Muslim-West relations, and serve as a platform for people of all backgrounds to come together – Keller says he wants to take "an ongoing stand" against the mosque in a meaningful way.
The Christian center will serve to "combat this new evil being constructed near ground zero" and "bring people the Truth of God's Word and the love and hope of Jesus Christ," the fire-and-brimstone preacher states.
A New York community board gave the green light in May for the construction of a mosque and Islamic center, a more than $100 million project, at the site of the former Burlington Coat Factory in lower Manhattan. Thousands of people have protested the project, calling it demeaning and offensive to the nearly 3,000 victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
On Tuesday, the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission held a hearing where opponents of the mosque argued for landmark status of the building on Park Place. A landmark designation would make it difficult for Muslim groups to develop their mosque and center there. Those in favor of landmark status argued that aside from being a 152-year-old building, the old Burlington building also was struck by a piece of one of the hijacked airplanes.
"To deprive this building of landmark status is to allow for a citadel of Islamic supremacy to be erected in its place," said Andrea Quinn, a freelance audio technician from Queens, as reported by The Associated Press.
The commission is expected to vote later this summer.
Meanwhile, Keller's 9/11 Christian Center is scheduled to open on Sept. 5 at the Embassy Suites New York. The center, an $8 million project, will move to a permanent facility on January 1.
"If the Muslims can without conscience build a mosque to propagate their religion of violence and hated a block away from where their Muslim brothers perpetrated the greatest act of terror on U.S. soil, killing 3,000 innocent souls in the process, we can open a place where people can come to hear the truth of the Bible and learn about the peace, love, and saving grace of Jesus Christ," said Keller, who currently leads Liveprayer.com, in a statement.
For years, Keller has been outspoken in his criticism of Islam, calling the religion "a 1400-year-old lie from hell" that was advanced through violence, hatred and death. Such statements led to the cancellation of his nightly TV program on a CBS-owned station in Tampa, Fla. He also recorded a video addressed to Osama Bin Laden in 2006, urging him to "renounce the lies of Islam" and come to faith in Christ.
Keller paints the Christian center as essentially the antithesis of the Islamic center.
"The mission is simple," Keller explains. "Have a place at ground zero where people can come to hear the real uncompromised Truth right from God's Word, and find the only true hope there is, faith in Jesus Christ!!!
"We will combat the lies of this world and Islam with the truth. We will combat the hatred of this world and Islam with love. We will combat the violence of this world and Islam with peace. Finally, we will combat eternal death this world and Islam brings with life everlasting!!!"
But not all Christians are on the same boat as Keller.
Julie Clawson, author of Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices, wrote in Sojourners magazine that it is "pure fear of the other" that is sparking some of the opposition.
And she sees Christians spewing more hate than love and more judgment than forgiveness.
"[E]ven in the church we daily judge Muslims by the actions of a few of its members," she wrote. "So while we applaud the Amish women for their acts of forgiveness, the fear and hatred sparked by the events of 9/11 still inform the average American’s opinion of Muslims. So to the protesters, the building of a Muslim center and mosque so near the site of Ground Zero is just another act of violence – a threat to American supremacy. There is no forgiveness of the terrorists and the grudge against them is extended to all Muslims.
"It is heartbreaking knowing that many of the protesters are there claiming to represent Jesus while they scream their message of hate."
Services at the 9/11 Christian Center will be held every Sunday at the Embassy Suites. When it moves into its permanent facility next year, services will be held seven days a week and visitors will be welcome to stop in and pray each day. The Liveprayer program is also scheduled to air each day in the New York City TV market beginning next year. The center is not a church, Keller clarified.