One thing that hurts the reputation of the Body of Christ much during times of crisis and controversy is when an independent pastor and/or church decides to capitalize on an issue to make a name for themselves, rather than act in a Christ-like manner that would benefit the Kingdom of God.
Because I serve as a leader in the New York region, I am compelled this week to comment on two controversial actions from some Christian leaders that relate to the September 11, 2001 attack on my city.

It has come out in recent weeks that a church in Florida is planning on burning copies of the Quran/ Koran on September 11, which is this Saturday. Also, a pastor by the name of Bill Keller is making headlines for announcing that he is planning on building a Christian center across the street from the proposed Ground Zero mosque to give folks an alternative community center, and so the gospel can be preached.

Regarding the burning of the Quran/ Koran: this foolish act will only incite more hatred and give critics of Bible-believing Christians an excuse to deride us for disrespecting another world religion and insulting a billion Muslims! Furthermore, do these people understand the kind of persecution this could unleash against churches and Christians who are the minority in Islam-dominated nations? Why don’t they ask Christian missionaries serving in the Middle East, Indonesia, or North Africa how they feel about this unconscionable act?

Instead of looking at the whole picture, it seems this is an example of a small church trying to gain notoriety or that the pastor of this church doesn’t have a clue when it comes to spreading the Gospel to non-believers with a demonstration of the love and power of Christ! If Muslims who converted to Christianity wanted to burn their Quran/ Koran (which would also be foolish) that would be one thing. But Christians burning the Quran/ Koran is an intentional act of hostility that can result in nothing good for the kingdom of God! This would also give Muslims the impression worldwide that Christians hate them and might close the door to any dialogue between the two groups that could result in their salvation!

As far as Bill Keller’s plan to build an alternative Christian center at Ground Zero: to be fair, I don’t know the man personally and have only heard his remarks and read about his plans through the media. Based on this cursory knowledge it seems like Keller is an opportunist looking for publicity or (worse) he’s another example of a religious leader who is using the tragedy of 9/11 to promote his own agenda! (This seems just as insensitive as the plan to build a mosque near Ground Zero.)

This only gives critics of evangelicals and evangelical televangelists more food for fodder in stereotyping evangelical leaders as fire and brimstone Bible-thumping loons who don’t really serve their cities but only care about attracting followers that will support them (financially or otherwise) in the building of their own empires! This also places evangelical Christians in the same category as the insensitive Muslims planning to build a mosque near Ground Zero, so it plays into the hands of those wanting to put all followers of Abrahamic religions in the same category--as ignorant, intolerant, insensitive fanatics who are the greatest threats to world peace. (Just read the depictions of the religious right and evangelicals in some of the opinion columns in the New York Times or read what popular atheist authors Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris have written.)
Maybe if I met Keller and spoke to him personally I would have a different opinion. But since he is trying to attract media attention--and I am not aware of his denying any of the things that have been reported about his plans--I am assuming my knowledge of this situation is at least partially correct.

Joseph Mattera