On Thursday, May 12th, the Netherlands politician and renowned Islamophobe Geert Wilders paid a visit to Nashville to tap into the anti-Islam mentality running amok here in Middle Tennessee and to deliver a “Warning to America” about the threat which radical Islam poses. Two protests were held; one was during Wilders’ luncheon with the Wilson County Republican Party at the headquarters in Franklin and another was held at the place of his speech, Cornerstone Church in Madison, TN. The place of my protest was the latter. The idea of Wilders professing his hateful message at a church of all places was particular contemptible because his message is one of intolerance and hatred which I believe stands in contrast with the message of love provided at the heart of Christianity. There were about 6 or 7 of us in total at the protest of Wilders speech.
We showed up right around the time when Wilders was scheduled to speak and initially stood outside on the sidewalk out front of the church holding our signs and sending our message to anyone pulling into the church parking lot as well as those passing by on the road. Our signs bore messages such as “Love Wins” and “Jesus teaches us to Love not to hate”. I figure that if we couldn’t change the minds of those inside we could at least give the false impression to those passersby that Cornerstone still held some Christian values. The security was out in force, with multiple police cruisers driving by on patrol and several police officers making rounds in a golf cart. After about 30 minutes, we were approached by a gentleman in a suit who appeared to be a member of the church coming to denounce our protest. As it would turn out, however, he was a member of the local Church of Scientology who had come to listen out of shear morbid interest and could not take any more of what he was hearing. I decided at this point that I had to try to get inside to bear witness. I also knew that if I was heading in to hear the talk that I would have to speak up or be misconstrued to be in support of his message.
Three of us decided to venture inside the church. We weren’t sure if they would even let us in given that the security had seen us out front protesting. They did, however, allow us to enter because it was a public event but only after checking us with a metal detector wand and passing by about 8 police officers. It literally looked like a TSA checkpoint in the lobby of the church. We were then lead to our seats by numerous ushers who were also standing around checking the crowd for potential dissenters. Along the way I grabbed a couple pieces of paper with which to make small signs (as I had left my Jesus teaching sign outside).
A striking thing about Cornerstone Church and likely the first thing you would see heading to it is the immense American flag on display outside. True to this outward display, the pulpit is flanked on one side by the seal of Tennessee flag and on the other by the United States flag. There was no cross to be seen up there. Clearly Cornerstone has taken Romans 13 too literally in giving honor to the governing authorities. They are worshiping the nation and have forgotten the Lord we are called to follow as Christians.
Prior to Wilders’ appearance, we were treated to a celebration of Osama bin Laden’s assassination and an introduction to Wilders in which he was referred to as today’s Winston Churchill. As part of the introduction to Wilders, Lou Ann Zelenik was invited up to the pulpit to speak. Some of you might remember Zelenik as a 2010 Republican candidate who officially released the following statement on the proposed Murfreesboro Islamic center:
Let there be no mistake, Lou Ann stands with everyone who is opposed to the idea of an Islamic training center being built in our community. This “Islamic Center” is not part of a religious movement; it is a political movement designed to fracture the moral and political foundation of Middle Tennessee… Until the American Muslim community find it in their hearts to separate themselves from their evil, radical counterparts, to condemn those who want to destroy our civilization and will fight against them, we are not obligated to open our society to any of them.
After one more introductory remark, Wilders was brought up to the stage. One of the primary points of Wilders speech focused on how we in American are blessed with the first amendment protection of free speech, which he juxtaposed with his current prosecution in the Netherlands resulting from his comments about Islam. Wilders’ plan to garner opposition to Islam is the use isolated incidents of violence and hatred and select scriptures from the Quran to strike fear into the audience about all of Islam using a fallacious “slippery slope” argument.
There were three of us in there watching the talk and after about 20 minutes of Wilders’ speech, I got up to leave, having heard enough. On the way out, I exercised my own first amendment right to shout “Jesus said love our enemies!”. At this point, a police officer came over and firmly gripped my arm with both of his hands and proceeded to forcefully lead me all the way off of church premises. He also told my companions and I that if we were to come back onto the church grounds that we would be arrested. On the way, I tried to engage the officer in civil discourse, saying that I found it ironic that given the basis of Wilders’ talk in free speech that I was being treated as such for exercising my free speech. I also asked the officer if he considered himself a Christian. He replied that “he wasn’t here to debate with me.”
What I take away from this whole experience is that there is a warning to be issued to the United States of America and, indeed, to the entire world and that it has to do with much more than radical Islam. This warning has to do with the dangers of intolerance resulting from ignorance. It is a warning of how this intolerance and fear can be ignited through propaganda in order to incite acts of hatred and violence. If there is a problem with radicalism around the world, I believe it heaps blame on us as Americans. It is our fault that thousands of Muslim civilians have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan over the course of our war in these countries. It is our fault that, instead of spending the money to build these areas up and allow education to free radicalism from the binds of intolerant ignorance we have fueled the fires of hatred with our weapons and broken down what little infrastructure was previously present. We go in just to break down the terrorist groups and in doing so we become the terrorist.
I do not debate that there are radical Muslims in the world who seek to do harm. I also do not debate the fact that there are also radical Christians, Jews and Atheists who do the very same thing. Whenever we let a false sense of righteousness fuel missions of violence, we are acting as terrorists. We cannot forget that this identifies military occupation just as much as it does radical Islam.
Only two things will solve this problem, knowledge and love. It will take knowledge to defeat ignorance and love to defeat hate. When it comes down to it, as long as we treat those with whom we disagree as our enemies, they will be.