Evangelical Christian Leader: Christians Have A Stake In Mosque Controversy

By Nicholas Ballasy | September 9, 2010 | 2:48 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - Evangelical Christian leader Richard Cizik told CNSNews.com the “real tragedy” in the ground zero mosque controversy is if America “sends a message” to the rest of the world that “we are not allowing, here in this country, what we’re asking to have happen overseas” concerning the free exercise of religion. He also said evangelical Christians have something “at stake” in the mosque controversy that is “much bigger” than the right of someone to build a mosque; it’s the “right of evangelicals to build churches overseas.”

Cizik, the President of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good was a featured speaker at the National Press Club during a press conference sponsored by the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), where a group of religious leaders denounced the anti-Muslim “bigotry” they believe has arisen in America as a result of the proposed mosque and Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero in lower Manhattan.

CNSNews.com asked Cizik if he thinks a Muslim born and raised in Mecca, Saudi Arabia has a God-given right to convert to the Roman Catholic faith and freely exercise their religion in the country.

“Oh, yes, absolutely. I think there has to be a dialogue that occurs, not just between Christians and Muslims but across the faith spectrum around these issues of religious freedom and so the real tragedy here is if America sends a message through this mosque controversy in New York City that we are not allowing, here in this country, what we’re asking to have happen overseas,” he said.

“So, if we want Saudi Arabia or any other Muslim county, Morocco where I happen to be working with leaders there, if we want them to respect religious freedom, which we do, we have to show respect here.”
The U.S. State Department’s most recent human rights report on Saudi Arabia says apostasy is punishable by death in the country.

“Conversion by Muslims to another religion (apostasy) and proselytizing by non-Muslims are punishable by death under the Islamic laws adopted by the country, but there have been no confirmed reports of executions for either crime in recent years,” the report says.

“We as evangelical Christians have something at stake here that’s much bigger than, for example, just the right of someone else to build a mosque; it’s the right of evangelicals to build churches overseas,” Cizik told CNSNews.com.

“That’s how I see it and I think evangelicals, if they looked at it that way, would have an entirely different perspective than some do now who say, ‘well, what right do they have to build a mosque in our country?’ Well, there are those in other countries who are saying, ‘what rights do these evangelicals have to build a church in our country?’ Well, I think there has to be religious freedom across the board; that’s the principle and that includes understanding, respect and cooperation.”

When asked what the Obama administration needs to do to ensure the free exercise of religion in Saudi Arabia, Cizik recommended they implement the recommendations of a report he co-authored called, “Engaging Religious Communities Abroad.”

“The Task Force recommends appointing a distinguished American Muslim as ambassador or special envoy to the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC). A robust vetting process will be necessary to ensure that this individual is qualified to both understand religious debates and to advance American interests,” the report says.
“The United States should also ensure that ambassadors to countries where religion plays a significant role (for example, Afghanistan, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kenya, Malaysia, Nigeria,
Pakistan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the Vatican, among others) have the standing and expertise (either themselves or in-house) necessary to effectively engage religious communities.”
Although his organization has not taken a formal stance on the ground zero mosque and Islamic Cultural Center, Cizik said he supports the project.

“Technically the new evangelical partnership doesn’t have an officially position but the leadership that includes myself as President and David Gushee, our chairman of the board, we’ve spoken in support of the mosque at Park 51 on the basis that it has been become a symbol for religious freedom around the country and so while it offends some, I happen to think it is something that should be permitted,” he told CNSNews.com.