As the country gears up for another election year, candidates have started campaigning in full swing. And with so much to sort out, they’ve begun to push their stances on key issues like the economy, the environment, and foreign policy.
Oh, and also apparently… Islam.
Herman Cain, Tea Party/Republican hopeful and former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, proclaimed Sunday that communities should “have the right” to ban mosques. From a legal perspective, this assertion is ridiculous, as you couldn’t ban mosques without violating a whole host of constitutionally protected rights. However, that didn’t stop Cain from making many other disparaging remarks toward Islam and its place in American life while referencing the strife surrounding the building of a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
Cain’s point of contention rests squarely on the issue of Sharia Law. He repeatedly denies expressing any discrimination against Islam, instead seeing Sharia as subverting and supplanting state and federal laws and thus extending beyond its status as a religious faith protected under the Bill of Rights.
But if that is the case, then what about Jewish law? The Halakha (which includes things like keeping the Sabbath and eating kosher) is very similar to Sharia law in terms of its scope and purpose, and yet you don’t see candidates talking about disbanding synagogues.
To that end, even Christians too have a kind of law hammered out over the centuries at various councils, though ours has either become so absorbed into the basic foundation of the Western ethos or fallen out of favor in the Protestant-saturated US that it has ceased to seem apart from or different than common jurisprudence. Remember excommunication? Defrocking? Even execution and dismemberment? These were (and some still are) all punishments for violating Christian church law, which includes offences like adultery, apostasy, murder, stealing, coveting (not the same thing), etc., and apes quite a bit from the Jewish law the preceded it.
Which makes me wonder: Does Herman Cain have any idea what he’s talking about, or is he just repeating a disappointingly pervasive prejudice? According to an article from FoxNews.com:
Cain again argued that residents were objecting to “the fact that Islam is both a religion and a set of laws, Shariah law. That’s the difference between any one of our other traditional religions.”
Really? Are the other two Abrahamic faiths exempt from the category of “other traditional religions”?
In an article on HuffPost, Cain is quoted as saying in defense of his mosque-ban statements:
“I’m simply saying I owe it to the American people to be cautious because terrorists are trying to kill us… so yes I’m going to err on the side of caution rather than on the side of carelessness.”
I think that answers our question about prejudices.
All of this wouldn’t matter so much to me if it weren’t for the fact that Herman Cain is a Christian, and remains vocal about his faith on the campaign trail. Thus he represents a part of my own faith tradition, and I don’t think he wears it very well at all. Perhaps my feelings on the matter echo to a much lesser extent how Muslims feel about terrorists and other extremists—embarrassed that such figures are associated (however wrongly) with their faith tradition.
On a more personal note, Cain’s statements matter to me because the Murfreesboro mosque matters to me. I grew up in a suburb of Nashville, only about 30 minutes away from Murfreesboro, and many of my high school friends attend Middle Tennessee State (MTSU), a university of nearly 25,000 students, also in Murfreesboro. It saddens me that my home has come under such terrible scrutiny as a place of bigotry and hatred. The Murfreesboro mosque has spiraled into a full-blown religious conflict, complete with acts of arson and pastors justifying their hate speech by invoking God and Jesus Christ at rallies to protest the construction of the mosque and its adjoining community center.
In a sobering article written in the Nashville Scene, Stephen George writes:
That the mosque has gotten this far is in part a testament to a land whose laws are designed to apply equally to all. But the arson also lays bare a discomforting possibility: Even if the losers fail to stop the new Islamic Center from being built, they can still burn it down. If peaceful assembly and petition don’t achieve the desired outcome, an accelerant could work with surprising efficiency and haste — even if it razes America’s core principles in the process.
I urge the church to stand beside their Muslim neighbors and uphold the same freedom to worship that we as Christians enjoy. It is in situations like these that I am reminded of Christ’s words in Matthew: “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Are words and actions like those spoken and done by Cain and local Murfreesboro pastors exemplifying this tenet of Christ’s teaching? Is the church damaging or enhancing its witness to the world in the way that it has approached situations like this one?
In closing, I leave you with the end of the Nashville Scene article:
Let the last word, for now, belong to the proposed mosque’s neighbor, Grace Baptist Church. On its website, pastor Russell M. Richardson has posted an unequivocal message telling how the matter stands between his Christian congregation and the Muslims next door.
“As a Conservative Christian I must make the following affirmation: Violence and Intimidation are not Christian Actions,” Richardson writes. “If God should need to be defended He will certainly provide the defense Himself. He is ABLE!”