“It was more or less to make a statement to the Muslims about how we felt about our religion, our Christianity,” said Mack Richards, a Middle Tennessee Baptist Church member who built the crosses at the request of Grace Baptist member and friend Bobby Francis. “We wanted them to see the crosses and know how we felt about things.”
“That’s what the church voted to do,” said Francis, a member of Grace Baptist since the 1970s when it was on Dill Lane.
Grace Baptist moved into its current home of about 6,000 square feet two years ago and is currently served by interim pastor Dan Watts.
The mosque next door has been the subject of intense scrutiny and debate in the past two years, including vandalism to its sign, a bomb threat, arson to construction equipment on site and a lawsuit to block its construction. Plaintiffs unsuccessfully argued in court that Islam is not a religion but won one battle in which the judge agreed that insufficient notice was provided by the county government concerning a meeting over the mosque’s site plans, which is under appeal.
Construction on the first phase of the building is nearing completion. A certificate of occupancy could come after a final inspection by the state fire marshal’s office on Tuesday.
Francis explained that three of the crosses, including a taller one, represent the Trinity. He said he sees the crosses as being part of the “Great Commission,” a Christian reference to what Jesus called his followers to do in spreading the news about him to the world.
‘Love thy neighbors’
Muslims see Jesus as an important prophet but do not view him as the son of God or accept that he died on the cross, confirmed Saleh Sbenaty, an ICM board member.
“We love our neighbors, all of them, including the church next door,” Sbenaty said. “As Muslims, we believe in Jesus, as well. Jesus said love thy neighbors. They are our neighbors, and we must love them.
“Also, our prophet Muhammad before he died also told Muslims they need to love their neighbors and take care of them, and not only their immediate neighbor but extended to the seventh neighbor. That means everybody should love everybody, and that peace and love would be cast on the whole community.”
February 2008: Arsonists firebomb the Islamic Center of Columbia.
June 2009: Former TSU student Carlos Bledsoe tries to firebomb Nashville rabbi’s house and then kills Army recruiter Pvt. William Long in Little Rock, Ark.
January 2010: “Not Welcome” spray-painted on sign for proposed Islamic Center of Murfreesboro.
February 2010: Vandals spray-paint “Muslims Go Home” on the Al-Farooq Mosque in Nashville.
May 2010: Proposed mosque in Brentwood is derailed by community opposition.
May 2010: Rutherford County Planning Commission approves site plan for Islamic Center of Murfreesboro.
June 2010: Mosque opponents pack Rutherford County Commission meeting to protest mosque.
July 2010: Hundreds of protesters march in downtown Murfreeboro to oppose mosque. Supporters hold vigils to support the mosque.
August 2010: Construction equipment at Islamic Center site burns in fire that FBI attributes to arson.
September 2010: Opponents file lawsuit to block the mosque.
October 2010: During hearings on the mosque, lawyers for plaintiffs say that Islam is not a religion and that mosque has terrorist ties, and accuse county of violating sunshine laws.
October 2010: Department of Justice files a brief saying Islam is a religion.
November 2010: Judge Robert Corlew denies plaintiffs’ request to block mosque.
February 2011: State Sen. Bill Ketron proposes law that labels all Muslims as part of a plot against America and would make supporting portions of Shariah law a felony. The law eventually passes with all references to religion removed.
March 2011: Islamic Center of Tennessee in Antioch holds open house with little public protest.
August 2011: Corlew upholds his earlier ruling in favor of the mosque. He dismisses all claims but the issue of whether there was proper notice before the mosque was approved.
September 2011: Murfreesboro mosque receives bomb threat.
November 2011: Activists hold anti-Shariah law conference at Cornerstone Church in Madison. The conference moved to the church after a local hotel canceled its contract with organizers.
May 2012: Corlew rules that site plan approval for the mosque is invalid.
July 2012: Corlew rules that mosque can’t open without approved site plan but does not stop construction.
July 2012: Mosque leaders file suit in federal court to open the mosque in time for Ramadan. U.S. Department of Justice also files suit.
July 2012: Federal judge rules that mosque can open once it passes inspection.