At the northwest corner of Public Square, the center of daily life in downtown Murfreesboro, there is a lectern made of translucent, weatherworn plastic. On it, encased, is an old leather-covered Bible split open to Luke, Chapter 2.
Casting a long shadow over Christ’s origin story is the Rutherford County Courthouse, a historic structure that has benefited handsomely from its city’s appreciation of the past. Its red brick and massive white columns, its stately squareness, remind that this Middle Tennessee town that sits 35 miles southeast of Nashville was once, for a brief decade during the 1800s, the state capital.
All around the courthouse, blocked in perfectly square rows, are businesses that recall yesterday’s Americana: cleaners, barber shop, cigar store, restaurants and bars, hardware store, realtor-cum-auctioneer — all brushed with the unmistakable veneer of localness. There are the law firms and bail bondsmen often found dotting the parapets of courthouses. This is the heart of local commerce and government.
But in the buckle of the Bible Belt, as the strategically placed holy book suggests, religion is rarely far out of mind.
In the past couple of weeks, Murfreesboro’s burgeoning national reputation evolved from New York City’s rat-tailed little brother in anti-Muslim fervor to the standard-bearer of a new, violent kind of white-bred, Christian-inspired bigotry. The arson at the site of the proposed new mosque in Rutherford County, just outside the ’Boro city limits, took some people by surprise, including our friends in the mainstream media, who flocked down here like wild dogs blind with the scent of raw meat.
It shouldn’t have surprised a soul.
The anti-mosque (and, by extension, anti-Islam) movements sprouting up throughout rural America tend to position themselves right on the line between bluster and violent action. If you are to believe their rhetoric, the ultimate goal is to fend off a coming war. They have been churning toward a violent end, trying along the way to intimidate with promises of protest, threats of legal action, large-scale demonstrations and a boatload of media coverage. They wrap themselves in our flag and wield the Old Testament as a sort of lance, fending off the perceived “evil” of the world’s second-largest religion, a point of view based on the actions of a strict minority of Muslims.
This is just the sort of thing Laurie Cardoza-Moore seems to be encouraging. The Nashville-based, self-professed leader of the anti-mosque movement in Murfreesboro, also a shaker in the controversy over the proposed mosque near Ground Zero, has made the rounds — from CNN to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart — alleging terrorist connections at the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro and portents of violence if the new mosque is built. That, despite the congregation’s 30 years of peaceful existence in Rutherford County.
Cardoza-Moore and others have insisted their screeds against Islam have nothing to do with religion, which — like their right to spit such fury — is protected by the First Amendment. Rather, they suggest they’re the would-be victims of a coming holy war to be waged by Muslims across America.
“Let me be very clear … this is not about religion, it never has been,” she wrote in a letter sent to the Rutherford County Planning Commission in late July, more than two months after the commission had approved the mosque. “It is about this community’s concerns about advancing the political agenda of radical Islam in Tennessee!”
Wars are fought, not argued. To suggest that what Cardoza-Moore and others are saying carries no implied threat of violence is to obfuscate a basic tenet of their approach, which by all indicators is to engender so much fear and loathing over a coming Islamic revolution in America that a tipping point — even a violent one — will be achieved. Their people, it is suggested, will have to rise up.
Paradoxically, it appears those in the anti-mosque community are operating under the same fundamental misunderstanding of America’s constitutional history as Al Qaeda and other groups that aim to threaten our country’s foundation: that the rule of law and civil rights are the expendable creations of an overly liberal majority that has strayed from its God. On the contrary, they’re the well-traveled rewards of our country’s designed distance from theocracy. And they protect the right to speak out even of those whose objective is a return to rule by religious doctrine.
As mainstream conservative Christians — including the Nashville-based Southern Baptist Convention and the National Association of Evangelicals, among many smaller congregations — have indicated in public statements, their edict as interpreted in modern society does not advocate for the burning of others’ holy books or violence against practitioners of another religion.
Christian Reconstructionists believe in imposing and enforcing strictly interpreted biblical law onto their country. Yet their fellow Christians don’t suggest the Reconstructionists are attempting to overthrow American law and enact sadistic biblical doctrine any time they insert themselves into the news.
Perhaps that’s because the mainstreamers realize, on some basic level, that a sliver-sized minority group is not representative of their whole — like Muslim terrorists, or Christians bent on terrorizing mosques and their congregants. Some understanding of the boundaries is in order, before another fire is lit.