At this point I shouldn’t have to explain much about the controversy surrounding Lowe’s this past week. And I also probably don’t need to spend much time dwelling on the fact that Lowe’s decision to cut its ads from the TLC show All-American Muslim is troubling. In fact, many have already commented on this, including my friends Eboo Patel, Chris Stedman (who seemed to lead the charge on twitter), and many others.
But in addition to adding my voice to the many who are affirming dissapointment in Lowe’s, I wanted to look at the situation from a different angle – one most appropriate for commentary from an evangelical.
Because, as disappointing as Lowe’s decision is, the truth is that I am more disappointed by the Florida Family Association (FFA), an organization that aims to “educate people on what they can do to defend, protect and promote traditional, biblical values” and claims that the TLC show “is propaganda clearly designed to counter legitimate and present-day concerns about many Muslims who are advancing Islamic fundamentalism and Sharia law.”
Yet I struggle to find how bigotry reflects biblical values. So I’d like to reflect on a few thoughts that occurred to me as I learned about the Florida Family Association’s statements that triggered the Lowe’s controversy. Here we go:
1. These Christians don’t know Muslims
I too am opposed to extremism. But as a Christian I believe that fighting extremism requires cooperation, not marginalization. If the Christians leading the FFA knew the Muslims in their community, I am convinced that they would be compelled to work together to address concerns about the threat of extremism in America. It has been well-voiced by the Muslim community – particularly during the past decade – that Islamic extremists do not represent the Islamic tradition. Take Eboo Patel as an example, who says that extremists “don’t deserve the title Muslim” in an interview on ABC (embedded at the end of this post).
2. These Christians aren’t just opposed to extremism, they’re also opposed to Muslims.
While the FFA cites concern that All-American Muslim is propaganda designed to counter concerns about Islamic fundamentalism, I don’t buy the premise that the world is undereducated about the existence of extremists. In fact, the problem is exactly the opposite: the general public is so familiar with images of burning effigies and burning buildings – and so undereducated about the existence of moderate Muslims – that they believe extremists like al-Qaeda to represent all Muslims. The actions of the FFA only make sense to me if the organization is set on opposing Islam – not just Islamic extremists.
3. These Christians are out of touch with our diverse reality.
The FFA seems to believe that The Learning Channel is portraying Muslims as typical American families while “excluding many Islamic believers whose agenda poses a clear and present danger to liberties and traditional values that the majority of Americans cherish.” Or as Eboo Patel puts it: the FFA was “disappointed that the show didn’t offer enough airtime to Muslim extremists.” The only way I can understand a reason why the FFA would make such an absurd claim is that either (a) the FFA is substantially out of touch with the current paradigm of reality television or (b) I was right on with point number 2. Does the FFA really need a reminder that it’s impossible to represent every person who calls him or herself a Muslim cannot possibly in just 5 hour-long episodes?
4. What the world needs is dialogue.
This controversy has led me to reflect on how I learned the valuable lesson not to assume one individual is an accurate representation of a whole group. I also got to thinking about the reason why I believe most Muslim communities to be not only peaceful and anti-extremism, but also intelligent, inspiring, and pro-active in meeting the needs of their communities.
I owe the credit for learning these lessons to interfaith dialogue.
It’s time for Christian communities of all styles to consider what kind of a world we want to live in. Do we want a world where harsh and ignorant statements trigger controversy that is continually traced back to so-called followers of Christ? Or do we want a world where we can sit together, serve together, and learn from one another without blurring the lines between our traditions but still getting to know one another?
It’s only through this coming together that Christians have the opportunity to show people of other faith traditions what following Jesus is really about – including what it means to live with biblical values. I just pray that the Florida Family Association learns this lesson before stirring up another embarrassing controversy that reflects poorly on those who are striving to follow the simple command to love one another.