The sometimes hateful rhetoric being used by opponents of the proposed mosque near ground zero can result in violence against Christians living in Muslim-dominated countries, warned a ministry leader who works with persecuted Christians.
"I think it's important to remember, as Americans are often unable to do, that there are millions of Christians in the Middle East," said Dr. Carl Moeller, president/CEO of Open Doors USA, on Wednesday.
Moeller, who noted that there are some 10 million Christians in Egypt and six million in Pakistan, said the "more vile and hateful" protests against the proposed project can inflame Muslim extremists. Since extremists in the Middle East cannot take their anger out on Americans, they take revenge on local Christians, which they associate with America, he said.
Several years ago, the Danish cartoons that poked fun at the Muslim prophet Mohammed caused massive rioting in the Middle East, Moeller recalled. During the uproar, angry Muslims beat up local Christians and torched churches.
"We talk often about our rights as Americans to protest. It is true," Moeller said. "But we also have responsibilities, not only to our societies but to those vulnerable communities that are at risk because of our actions."
For months, average Americans, politicians and recently even President Obama have been drawn into an emotionally-charged debate about whether a $100 million Muslim community center and mosque should be built two blocks from ground zero.
Proponents of the project, called Park51, maintain it would be a symbol of America's religious tolerance and strengthen interfaith relations. Meanwhile, opponents say the center would be an offense to the nearly 3,000 people who died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Recently, New York Gov. David Paterson waded into the controversy by offering to discuss with the developers of Park51 about moving the center elsewhere.
SoHo Properties, the developer of Park51, expressed interest in the discussion with Paterson.
In the mean time, Moeller has called on Americans to try to remain civil in the debate.
"When we let our emotions get out of hand and we let our disagreement spill over into hatred and vilification, then that is being echoed and amplified in the Muslim world," warned Moeller. "The ultimate result is innocent people being killed, pastors being killed, and churches being burned throughout the Muslim world."
Open Doors works to strengthen believers suffering from interrogation, arrest and other forms of oppression because of their faith in over 45 of the most persecuted countries worldwide.