On Sunday, Aug, 21, a headline in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution read: “Newton County in uproar over planned mosque.”
There were to be two town hall meetings the other evening at the Historic Courthouse, so I decided to stroll over. When I arrived, I saw a few hundred people lined up to get inside. I was greeted by people I knew. I was invited to pray with some folks who were having vigils, people who assumed that I felt as they did. I knew there were many already seated in the old courthouse pews, so I turned around and walked home.
The land to this group of Muslims of Bangladeshi heritage has been sold. The deeds have been signed and the lawyers have shaken hands. The permit for a place of worship has been drawn up. This all took place in 2015.
In the last few years we have heard a whole lot of noisy debate about the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution. But go and read the First Amendment. There at the very beginning, before you get to the first semicolon, it reads:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …"
"Prohibiting the free exercise thereof …"
Sometimes the law makes things pretty clear.
The free exercise of a religion cannot be prohibited. Period.
The Problem with the Good Samaritan
I remember learning about The Good Samaritan on the felt board in my Sunday School class in the First Methodist Church. There was the Candy-Land-looking road from Jerusalem to Jericho. There was the traveler, all beaten up and appearing as wretched as was acceptable for eight-year-olds to endure. There was the Samaritan looking handsome and kind -– the person we were to encouraged to emulate. It was a warm and fuzzy story. So much so that now, in these United States, hospitals and charities are literally named, Good Samaritan.
But who was Jesus talking to when he told this story? It is important to remember, Jews and Samaritans did not geehaw –- their enmity was clear. The traveler was rescued by "a despised Samaritan."
My fellow Newton County Christians. Here is an exercise I used to do with my Methodist youth groups back when I was a camp counselor and a youth director. The next time you retell this story, replace the word “Samaritan” with a group whom you despise. I do believe – for a lot of us – this will not be too hard.
Then add a dash of that good ol’ WWJD.
Go ahead. I dare you.
Greater Love Hath No Man ...
Yes. This is a dangerous world. (It always has been, but nowadays we see it non-stop on TV.) I wonder how many of you know what occurred in Dhaka, Bangladesh on July 1. Two of our own were killed by terrorists who had attacked a café. I say “our own” because both of these young people, Abinta Kabir and Faraaz Hossain, had been schooled here in Newton County –- at Oxford College. Abinta was a rising sophomore. Faraaz was a junior, a graduate of Oxford College and a student at the university’s Goizueta Business School. While at Oxford, Faraaz had been deeply involved in student activities. Back home, he was working on a project to alleviate poverty in Dhaka.
On that horrible day, the assailants offered freedom to anyone who could recite from the Quran. Faraaz was offered freedom, but would not leave his female friends.
John 15:13: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
Faraaz Hossain, a Muslim and a man of the greatest courage, did just that.
Let’s strive to be loving, today.
A native of Covington, Andy Offutt Irwin is a nationally renowned storyteller, humorist, singer, songwriter, musician, whistler and human noise maker. Andy’s take on small town life has resulted in 10 albums, thousands of shows, and many awards, including the 2013 Oracle Circle of Excellence from the National Storytelling Network.