Monday, January 9, 2012

The Cordova House Screaming Fit: A Heartwarming Epilogue

     Where do old, formerly exciting protests and other trumped-up news stories go when they die? Is there something like an elephant grave yard to which they just wander off and are forgotten?  Or do they just get lost like old socks in a hungry washing machine?
     I paused to reflect on this imponderable when I read a single paragraph in my church bulletin this morning. It gave mention of Cordova House, which, a year ago, had Internet trolls tickling their laptop keyboards with angry messages of protest. In this brief blurb, however, the news of Cordova House was written as a heartwarming tribute to Christian tolerance.
     For those of you who no more than faintly recall the controversy, or who somehow missed it entirely, Cordova House is a Muslim worship center under construction “near Memphis, Tennessee.”
     At the time of the controversy, Islamic experts informed us of why the Muslims chose the unusual name of Cordova for their place of worship. You see, during the Middle Ages, Muslims controlled much of Spain, and the city of Cordova was their main city in Spain. According to these experts, these modern-day jihadists selected the name Cordova as a means of getting in the faces of beer drinking rednecks who also happened to be medieval scholars. (Actually, some people I know are quite medieval, though I'm not sure I'd call them scholars.)  The bomb throwers wanted to be “walking on the fightin’ side of” aging Merle Haggard fans. The Internet trolls were drawing upon Hollywood stereotypes such as these.
     The blurb I saw in my church bulletin aroused enough of my interest that I checked the Internet for further information. I stumbled upon a startling coincidence. The town in which Cordova House is being built is also named Cordova—yes, Cordova, Tennessee. What are the odds of that happening? Or has Sharia law already become so entrenched that the town fathers were cowed into renaming their town to suit Muslim radicals?
     As it turns out, there never was much controversy over the construction of Cordova House. The alleged controversy existed almost entirely in cyberspace.  Somewhere along the line, Cordova House became known as Memphis Islamic Center, or maybe it was never really called Cordova House except in cyberspace.
     As soon as the Muslims announced their plans to build a worship center in Cordova, Pastor Steve Stone of Heartsong Church took positive action. He placed a sign in front of his church reading, "Heartsong Church welcomes Memphis Islamic Center to the neighborhood."
     Here are some of the comments Pastor Stone made to WMC-TV:
     "Once we put up the sign, within three days people from Memphis Islamic Center contacted us and were overwhelmed with emotion that we would be so welcoming."
     "I don't know a lot about Islam and I only know one fellow who is a Muslim," said Pastor Stone. "So I knew it was going to be a learning process for me, but we follow Jesus and he tells us to love our neighbors."
     "People that associate Christians with folks that are afraid of or don't like Muslims, I can't judge those people that are Christian. I believe that to take the name of Christ and do hateful things is a real insult."
     "Their facility is not quite finished and they came and asked us if they might be able to use our facility for Ramadan prayers which we took as a high compliment."
     There’s actually more to that last quote than meets the eye. According to the blurb in my church bulletin, the imam had asked Pastor Stone if Muslim worshipers could use “a room” in his church for Ramadan prayers. Pastor Stone offered them the sanctuary.
     About 20 members of the 550-member congregation quit the Heartsong Church in protest.  Pastor Stone says he tried to work with the dissenters, but they left anyway.  He now says he's "kind of glad they left," as his church was better off without members who hated Muslims.
     Of late, the members of the mosque and the church are working on a homeless ministry and have made plans for a shared park.
     (You may watch the above video on YouTube at this link.)
     Returning to the WMC-TV news article, “Stone said it's the beginning of a friendship he hopes will inspire others to love their neighbors.”

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