Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Baptist Church in the Great Valley

Berwyn Banter . . . Ray Hoffman’s Remarks on Homosexuality Evoke Strong Response from Local Residents

In reading the Letters to the Editor in the Main Line Media News, there were several references to Ray Hoffman’s Berwyn Banter column from March 24, 2011, which before writing this post, I had not read.

In the past, Hoffman’s columns have generally focused on local community events such as restaurant opening and closings, funerals, sports and school events, the Fire Company, etc. His remarks can be informational and are often times laced with his opinion on local politics and people. Occasionally, Berwyn Banter has provided personal opinions on other topics, including an obvious disdain for online news sources, including blogs. Unfortunately, on several instances, Hoffman has referenced both me as a political candidate and Community Matters in a very negative, disrespectful manner.

Unlike the dialogue that Community Matters topics often evoke, Hoffman’s Berwyn Banter columns rarely produce any comments. I choose rather than responding directly to his criticisms, to simply ignore his rancor, preferring to believe in the mantra ‘what goes around comes around’. Apparently, for Mr. Hoffman, that concept may have hit home for him; his last Berwyn Banter column which referenced his moral outrage over the Catholic Church priests has received negative response from local residents.

To be clear, I too am outraged over any child who has suffered abuse at the hands of Catholic priests (or any adult). However, for Hoffman to suggest in his column that pedophilia and homosexuality are synonymous; and “the work of evil incarnate and therefore unforgivable”, has taken his opinion, to a very difficult and hard to understand place. One can describe pedophiles who prey on innocent children as evil and their behavior unforgivable but it saddens me greatly to read that Hoffman imposes the same standard in his description of homosexuals. Growing up gay in America and facing religious intolerance and persecution can prove a challenge for many of today’s youth as they struggle to fit in and to ‘belong’. Hoffman’s words are painful to read.

My concern for Hoffman’s apparent intolerance of homosexuality is echoed in one of this week’s letters to the editor from Liz Young of Wayne. She writes . . .

“ . . . The biggest misunderstanding many people have is that pedophilia and homosexuality are one and the same. But to say that all homosexuals are pedophiles, or that all pedophiles are homosexual, is like comparing apples to rat poison. . .

Statements like those of Mr. Hoffman inspire hate crimes. In many parts of the world, including our own country, we have made strides in tolerance and acceptance. Do we really want to go backward to a world where members of disliked minority groups were stereotyped as representing a danger to the majority’s most vulnerable members? For example, Jews in the Middle Ages were accused of murdering Christian babies in ritual sacrifices. Black men in the United States were often lynched after being falsely accused of raping white women. . . “

I note that there is not a Berwyn Banter column in this week’s edition of the newspaper. I emailed Ray Hoffman but have not received a response, perhaps he is on vacation. [update: Ray Hoffman responded to my email, confirming that will he continue to write his column for the paper. He also corrected me that the column changed from ‘Berwyn Banter’ to Main Line Banter’ two years. ] The following is an excerpt from Ray Hoffman’s Berwyn Banter column of March 24, 2011. To read the entire column, click here.

Moral Outrage over Catholic Scandal . . .

Nobody asked me but I think that there needs to be another level of defined sin in the Roman Catholic Church. Mortal and venial sin each has a long litany of offenses identified over the centuries, and one might think that this multitude of imperfections and separation from God covered it all. Not so fast, my friends. A few short years ago, the white-hot spotlight of front-page press illuminated pedophilia among priests throughout the United States. Child abuse by priests was amok, even affecting legions of faithful families along the Main Line. As if this evil plague of child abuse were not enough in itself, the heinous cover-up by the church hierarchy of priests abusing innocent and trusting children was equally disgraceful. The world continues today to be further appalled by and mourns this unthinkable parasitical pestilence on a daily basis. As the incidences of child abuse grow in number and location, the question could well be asked: where and when does this stop?

Last week fellow columnist Henry Briggs joined a clamoring contingent of lamenting and lambasting journalists in the cry: “Enough!” Which brings me to my suggestion that there should be another level of defined sin within the Catholic Church: unforgivable sin. No ifs, ands and buts! Just unforgivable! I know that the basis of many organized religions is that God is a forgiving Creator and Father. But it is difficult for me to believe that my God would not have a hard time forgiving men who have prostrated themselves before him, vowing that they would do his will, and to have those men shatter the sanctity of young and innocent children who have been entrusted to their care and spiritual upbringing. What is even viler is that many of these offending pedophiles are also homosexuals. Pedophilia and homosexual behavior is more than mortal (deadly) sin. It is the work of evil incarnate and therefore unforgivable. . .

Interesting Religious Relationship in Tredyffrin . . . Islamic Mosque, Jewish Synagogue & Baptist Church are Neighbors

My husband and I were in Istanbul last year on vacation and visited several beautiful mosques, including the Blue Mosque. The city was fascinating and by complete coincidence we arrived in the midst of Ramadan, Islam’s most religious holiday season. Seeking cultural diversion, this trip will remain a highlight in our vacation memories, in no small part by the generosity and kindness of the Turkish people.

So it was with great interest that I read the following AP story — I actually read it in an Irish newspaper this morning. On the eve of the ninth anniversary of September 11th, I think it is a good time to take pause and to be mindful of the reasons this country was founded . . . including religious freedom. Tomorrow should be a time of remembrance . . . of the day, and the many lives that were lost. How appropriate that this story would be read around the world today.

New mosque opens peacefully in US suburb – next door to synagogue, near Baptist church

Written by Kathy Matheson, The Associated Press
Friday, September 10 2010, 6:02 AM

BERWYN, Pa. – A new mosque recently opened in this well-to-do suburb of Philadelphia, but not many people noticed. That was fine with leaders of the Islamic Society of Greater Valley Forge. Amid a tense national climate for U.S. Muslims, they did not seek publicity for the happy occasion, only continued peace with their neighbors: a Jewish synagogue next door and Baptist church across the street.

The Muslims’ good relations with other faiths and the town at large offers a stark contrast to American communities torn by anti-Islamic acts, including arson at the site of a planned mosque in Tennessee and a threatened Qur’an burning in Florida.In New York, debate rages over a planned Islamic centre and mosque near ground zero. And everywhere tensions are heightened because Friday’s joyous Muslim celebration of Eid al-Fitr falls a day before the somber ninth anniversary of Sept. 11.

But in Tredyffrin Township, about 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia, community members say a tradition of religious tolerance, combined with an educated population and small-town friendliness, have yielded years of harmonious coexistence.”We have much more in common than not in common,” mosque president Mohammad Aziz said. “We are blessed with very good neighbors.”

Township officials conceded some trepidation among residents when the Islamic Society sought construction permits in 2008. The growing Sunni group planned to build on land behind the small house it had used as a mosque since 1994. Most concerns were standard zoning issues like parking, traffic and stormwater runoff. But the concept of a mosque was jarring to some, despite Muslims having long worshipped at the site, said Judy DiFilippo, a township supervisor for 20 years until her retirement in January. “It was something brand new to the community. Even though they were using an existing building, it wasn’t an obvious mosque,” DiFilippo said.

The plans were approved; construction and fundraising began in earnest, capped by the mosque opening on June 5. DiFilippo said there have been no problems, which she attributed to an “underlying theme of tolerance that just comes with this community.”

Yossi Kaplan, a Lubavitch rabbi at Chabad Jewish Center next door, said he was approached by people seeking his opposition to the project — but waved them off. The two faiths were enjoying solid relations, to the point where they shared parking lots and Muslims helped with tasks that Jews cannot perform on the Sabbath.

The rabbi expected nothing less from his neighbors, regardless of religion. This is America, Kaplan said, and this is how it’s supposed to be.”We’re just good friends. We’re really good neighbors,” he said. “There’s never been any issues.”

The United States has seen a 58 per cent increase in the number of mosques over the past decade, from 1,200 to roughly 1,900, according to Ihsan Bagby, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of Kentucky and a researcher on American mosques. Yet many U.S. mosques are repurposed existing buildings, retrofitted to accommodate ritual washing areas and separate entrances for men and women. Sometimes they require odd configurations for prayer so worshippers can face Mecca.

Thus the new $1.5 million mosque in Tredyffrin is truly an American Dream for Aziz. Since joining the congregation in 1998, he said, it has more than doubled in size as technology professionals arrived in the area from India and Pakistan. The mosque has a prayer hall, library, multipurpose room, bathrooms with washing areas, WiFi and — most important — more space for the 60 or so families who worship there.

Except for dome-shaped accents around the vertical windows, it looks more like a community centre than a house of worship. There are no minarets and no dome — cost-conscious omissions that Aziz said should help it blend in and attract younger generations. “American mosques should take their own form … (and) be appealing and open to people, not just Muslims,” said Aziz, 57. “It is built for my children and my children’s children.”

Last week, the Pennsylvania chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations sponsored an event for community members to tour the mosque, learn about the faith, observe evening prayers and share dinner. “If you get to know your neighbours, you are less inclined to be fearful of them,” CAIR-PA Executive Director Moein Khawaja said.

About 50 people came, including the Rev. John Loring, pastor of the Baptist Church in the Great Valley, just across the street. The congregation was founded in 1711 by Welsh immigrants seeking freedom to worship in Pennsylvania, then a colony that emphasized its welcome to settlers of all faiths.

“Respect for all religions is an important part of who we are,” Loring said. Sally Bovais, 68, of Phoenixville, came with about 10 members of her nearby Presbyterian Church. She said such events were important “to put a face to Muslim people.” “The stereotype is really very dangerous,” Bovais said. “They espouse love and peace, and raise families and are involved in their faith. That’s part of the thread of our nation.

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