Category Archives: World

Exploring the [non] Religious Landscape: Thoughts on CNN Belief’s 1st Birthday

Photo courtesy of CNNBelief blog (http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/06/08/10-things-the-belief-blog-learned-in-its-first-year/)

 

Being a young blog, FLP still has more than a few lessons to learn. Thus it caught my eye when I came across a post on CNNBelief by CNN.com Religion Editor Dan Gilgoff entitled, “10 things the Belief Blog learned in its first year.” When an established news site throws around any kind of advice, it’s perhaps best to take it, so I clicked.

Though some of Gilgoff’s observations didn’t surprise me, I found many of them rather compelling for their relation to interfaith concerns. (See specifically numbers 1, 2, 5, 6, and 7.)

And as Religious Literacy Chair of Interfaith in Action (the student interfaith organization at University of Illinois of which Greg and I are a part), I was personally quite interested in numbers 3, 4, and 5 of Gilgoff’s list, which were not all that encouraging to someone who makes it a goal to promote religious understanding.

Yet the points I thought most noteworthy for FLP, and the ones I will focus on in this post, are the following (along with my commentary):

1. Every big news story has a faith angle.

I love that this is number one. Why? Because one’s faith (or lack thereof) is perhaps the single most significant aspect to shaping how one views the world. “Faith angle[s]” are part of every news story because they are part of every person’s story. It is this use of story that underpins much of interfaith cooperation and understanding.

2. Atheists are the most fervent commenters on matters religious.

Why is this one pertinent for the mission of FLP? Because the non-religious as well as the religious should—and can—participate in interfaith cooperation based around shared values of service. Our friend Chris Stedman is working tirelessly to inject interfaith cooperation into the conversations taking place in the atheist community. (Check him out at Non-Prophet Status, in our “Friends” bar at the top of the page.)

4.   Most Americans are religiously illiterate.

The first step to cooperation is understanding. Ignorance breeds ill-will, and I can’t express how difficult it can be to achieve any level of understanding if one has no context from which to work. Can you understand Christianity without understanding where it derives its ethic? Without understanding Christ and his teachings? I would say “no.”

Through sharing personal stories, the IFYC’s model for interfaith service projects seeks to build religious literacy while also building relationships. Until one has an intellectual framework to build upon (made from stories of individuals or from the pages of a textbook), it is foolish to expect any sort of peaceful coexistence or cooperation among those of different beliefs.

5. It’s impossible to understand much of the news without knowing something about religion.

This one links closely with the number preceding it. Misunderstanding the teachings and beliefs of those in other countries (and even at home) contributes to the “othering” and alienation of those different from us. To fully understand things like the Arab Spring, for instance, one must know a few things about Islam. (Which, clearly, we don’t. See no. 4 above and no. 7 below.)

6.  Regardless of where they fit on the spectrum, people want others to understand what they believe. That goes for pagans, fundamentalist Mormons, Native Americans, atheists – everyone.

I would say that this acts as a kind of proof or confirmation of my assertion above that to not understand someone is to make them more alien. I think that people desire to be heard because they desire to be taken seriously—no one enjoys feeling misunderstood, and thus looked down upon, because of their difference from others.

7. Americans still have an uneasy relationship with Islam.

This is perhaps the most obvious one to discuss on a blog that promotes interfaith cooperation, and sadly makes even more sense on a blog that focuses on the Christian community’s involvement in interfaith cooperation more specifically. I know that many in the Christian community don’t have any problem at all with their Muslim neighbors; however, this sentiment is by no means a general rule. Prominent public figures continue to make disparaging and uninformed statements about the Islamic community that only further strife and division, even going so far as to place Islam on trial. (For more on this, see my recent post on Herman Cain.) Hate crimes continue to occur at mosques all across the nation. Clearly, we have still not come to understand that those who attacked us in September of 2001 were not Muslims, but extremists.

So what does one take away from this list?

I believe this list gives numerous reasons for reflection, but the one that sticks out most is this: there is much work to be done. We seem more hateful, more religiously illiterate, and quicker to judge than we should be. What do you think? Do you agree with this assessment? What do you make of the list featured in the article?

More importantly, how do we change it? How does our faith impact or inform Gilgoff’s observations? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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“This isn’t an innocent mosque”: Herman Cain and Anti-Islamic Rhetoric

Photo courtesy The Atlantic (http://cdn.theatlantic.com/static/mt/assets/politics/herman%20cain%20full.jpg)

 

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!”

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Reflecting on the Death of Osama bin Laden

Screen capture from digital edition of The Daily Illini. May 2, 2011.

 

Sunday night found me fixed to my computer.  A friend’s email tipped me off to breaking news, so, naturally, I turned to the authority in up-to-the-minute news: Facebook.

A few hints of Osama bin Laden’s death had already leaked, and a Google search confirmed the rumor by sheer magnitude even before I landed on something reputable.  When I finally came to the live stream at whitehouse.gov and waited for the President to speak on the matter, I pondered what this means to our country – a symbol of terror and extremism finally put to rest.

Later, as I watched celebrations unfold in major cities across the country and on Facebook profiles around the globe, I quickly began to search for a place of deeper understanding in light of mixed emotions.

My faith teaches me to love my enemies.

Jesus said:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48.
So while my thoughts jump between September 11, 2001 and May 1, 2011, I can’t help but wonder if we’ve missed the point. 

The death of Osama Bin Laden is certainly a significant development in the global war on terror.  It is an incident that was long ago deemed necessary by those responsible for making such decisions, a task for which I thank God I am not responsible.  But we must not allow ourselves to believe that another murder is going to solve the problem.  There was no victory on May 1, 2011.

Destruction of our enemy, although perhaps necessary to quell the threat of terrorism in the present day, will only motivate a violent response and serve as fuel for the voices of evil that teach young children to kill others out of national pride or religion.  It will not prevent terrorism in the future.

If we want to destroy terrorism, our fight does not involve a gun or a missile.  It involves relationships. I have often mentioned Terry Jones, a Florida “pastor” who put the Koran on trial.  And often I ask — what if he had a Muslim friend?  How would his actions be different?

The same must be granted Osama bin Laden.  What if he had lived in a world where no one is portrayed as the “other,” where all are granted respect by default, where bigotry and prejudice did not exist?  What if he had a friend who could put a face, a name, a personality, or a life to the populations he has dedicated his life to destroying?  For a man who had become so evil, it would have had to begin early – before the ideology of extremism claimed him.

If you cut off the head, another will take its place.  But if you teach a generation the language of cooperation, the technique of service, and the power of love, then you train an army that will change our world to a more peaceful place.

As a Christian, I believe that the love Christ demonstrated is the key to bringing peace to the world.  And in Jesus that love manifested as compassionate service, was communicated through a story, and ultimately, profoundly demonstrated in personal sacrifice.  So let’s start in the same way – with acts of service, with compassion, with stories.  Let’s reach across faith lines and show the disciples of extremism that the differences which led them to destroy can inspire us to work together.

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“No Man is an Island”: One Christian’s Response to Bin Laden’s Death

Photo courtesy of the Chicago Tribune. (www.chicagotribune.com)

So, Osama Bin Laden is dead. But what now? What is our response?

Students all over the US are flocking to the streets, throwing gargantuan parties, singing songs, celebrating. On the one hand, this event does mark some kind of progress that seems to warrant at least a bit of frivolity. However, it’s important not to let the zealous rush override the moral fiber of our wonderful nation—and, as Christians, the integrity of our faith. It’s one thing to rejoice over the triumph of peace, but another to take unhealthy pleasure in the loss of human life.

And there is a difference.

As Christians, we must remember the words of Scripture.

In Romans chapter 12, Paul says:

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[d] says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;

if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.

In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”[e]

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

In Matthew chapter 5, Jesus says:

7 Blessed are the merciful,

for they will be shown mercy.

8 Blessed are the pure in heart,

for they will see God.

9 Blessed are the peacemakers,

for they will be called children of God.

-and-

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

The words in the verses above do not always sync with reality. For instance, sometimes sin seems the only way to defeat sin. (It is here one could easily turn to the tangent of “just war theory,” but we won’t open that can of worms here.) I believe this is just a function of our fallen world, and while we as Christians must try to transcend this cycle of violence-for-violence by remembering the words of Scripture, we also can’t place an unrealistic moral expectation upon it all—we cannot, no matter how hard we try, be “perfect…as your heavenly Father is perfect,” for instance.

I know that posts like this one can so easily come across as pompous pontification, especially in light of such atrocities as 9/11 and a decade-long war. We want to feel a sense of victory that justifies the prior tragedy and dysfunction.

So, of course, the news of Bin Laden’s death brings with it a rush of relief, and I have to admit that even I gave an enthusiastic fist pump when I logged onto Facebook this morning and saw the news. Wrapped within his figure we find a terrific jumble of symbolism—the evil he represented, the brainwashing of young men, the anxiety and fear his actions have brought to the world—but we must keep separate the symbols and the man himself. I believe as Christians we walk a fine line on these matters.

In the verses I quoted above from Romans, Paul ends by exhorting us to “overcome evil with good.” So I challenge you: what kind of good can we make of this evil?

I leave you with this, the words of the poet John Donne:

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man

is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;

if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe

is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as

well as a manor of thy friends or of thine

own were; any man’s death diminishes me,

because I am involved in mankind.

And therefore never send to know for whom

the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” (-Meditation 17.)

 

(All Bible verses taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.)

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Vatican II: The Catholic Promise to Build Interfaith Relationships

Vatican II, the Nave of St. Peter's Basilica, Rome (Photo courtesy of saintpetersbasilica.org.)

What’s in a name?

This famous question from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet bears special significance whenever one finds themselves given the task of actually naming something—whether devising the moniker of an organization, or even naming one’s own child. Names are important. They’re symbolic, descriptive, representative.

If you click on the “Faith Line Protestant” tab at the top of our page, you can find a description of ours. In it, we make it explicit that, though we may use the term “Protestant” to describe ourselves, we do not intend this to alienate or distance ourselves from the Catholic community. On the contrary, the Catholic Church has much to offer interfaith cooperation embedded in its very theological framework as a result of Vatican II.

So, what is Vatican II, you ask? Well, for those like myself who need a little brushing up on the goings-on of the Catholic Church, here is the Wikipedia article.  Essentially, Vatican II, or the Second Vatican Council, was an ecumenical council held in the early 1960s in Rome to discuss the Church’s response to a rapidly changing world and the relation of these changes to their theology. It lasted about three years.

Many things came out of Vatican II, perhaps the most noticeable of which was the alteration of the liturgy. Prior to Vatican II, Catholic mass had to be given in Latin, the official language of the church. Yet after Vatican II, churches encouraged greater participation of the laity in the liturgy of mass. This meant that mass was said in the vernacular instead of Latin (although one can still attend Latin mass in Catholic churches—I have).

But liturgical changes weren’t the only things to come from Vatican II.

In reading through Daniel L. Migliore’s highly accessible introduction to Christian Theology, Faith Seeking Understanding, I came across an interesting chapter entitled “The Finality of Jesus Christ and Religious Pluralism.” In this chapter, Migliore spends a section discussing Vatican II’s unprecedented proclamations regarding interfaith relationships. I have to admit, what I learned certainly surprised me.

While still maintaining that the Christian faith contains the ultimate truth, Vatican II upholds the particular identities of other faith traditions, and, as Migliore says, “acknowledges in them ‘a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men.’” Furthermore, Vatican II calls on Christians to take part in “dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions,” and engage in service projects as a means for establishing common ground (pg. 309).

Thus, the Catholic community has, for the past half a century, already codified interfaith cooperation as a part of their very ethos. I’ve always known Catholics to be willing to participate in interfaith efforts, but now I better understand why. I hadn’t known how explicitly they’re doctrinal declarations extolled interfaith cooperation.

With a history of our own sectarian tensions, perhaps the many branches of the Christian church—both Catholics and Protestants—can come together in agreement on interfaith cooperation and service, encouraging peaceful intra-faith (as much as interfaith) relationships. So, when thinking about planning service projects, don’t forget to include other Christian communities that may differ from your own. Building bridges doesn’t stop with those of other traditions.

(Daniel L. Migliore is Professor Emeritus of Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. For his CV and a list of his works, see his page on PTS’s website here.)

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Dust and Ash: Reflections on Terry Jones’ “Trial” of the Koran

Image Taken from the HuffPost. (Links below.)

 

I can imagine the dust—both the desert dust and the ash of the burned book.

The Bible says that God made us from dust; recently the church calendar celebrated a day of dust—Ash Wednesday—in which we were reminded of the transience of life by the smearing of oil, water, and ash on our foreheads. The liturgy in my tradition tells us: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

But instead of following in the footsteps of Jesus, giving up something for Lent in a symbol of solidarity with Christ’s temptation in the desert, Florida pastor Terry Jones and his congregation held a trial. A trial for the Koran. In the end, they deemed it “guilty,” and burned it.

In a piece I posted a few weeks ago, I reflected on my time abroad and shared a few stories of my experiences as an American in a foreign country. I titled it: “More Dispatches from Abroad: Why Interfaith in America Matters.” It didn’t garner many readers or spur any sort of discussion, but in light of recent events, perhaps it will now.

My closing statements used Terry Jones as an example, warning that the world takes notice when America makes threats to burn holy books or, as in the case of Peter King, put a faith group on trial. If we are to diffuse the hate and negative reputation that follows the US as a bigoted and hypocritical country, then we have to saturate the discussion with stories of cooperation and peace. The world watches us. They hear us. And now that Jones has in fact burned a Koran (and others did in fact take notice)—with the result that 12 people are now dead—I think the discussion becomes evermore pertinent.

We are now on day four of the violent protests. Since I began this piece on Saturday, the death toll has climbed to over 20 people and counting, and 80 have been injured as the protests have turned to riots.

There is in this situation a tendency to point at the Afghan Muslims as fulfilling Jones’ perceptions of them as being violent, rash, and hateful toward the US. However, I would say that this characterization of Islam is unfair; it’s the equivalent of shoving someone on the playground and then being surprised when they retaliate.

Make no mistake, I am in no way saying that these Afghan’s actions were justified—they certainly were not. Nothing can justify what they did, not even the burning of a sacred object. To argue that somehow the Afghans were right to act out would be to say that human life is less sacred that wood pulp and ink, and that is simply false.

But it does give one pause.

The political situation in Afghanistan toward the United States was tenuous at best before Jones started advertising his “Burn the Koran Day,” and now by actually following through on his threats he has sent a very dangerous signal to the Afghan Muslims that has the potential to paint the “War on Terror” as a holy war. And all of this elevated tension comes just as we start withdrawing our troops.

The actions on both sides speak to severe dysfunction. Both parties highlight the need for dialogue and understanding. If Terry Jones and his congregation actually knew anything about Islam, then they wouldn’t have entertained the idea of burning a Koran. And likewise, if the Afghan Muslims knew that the vast majority of Christians in the US condemned Jones’  actions, perhaps they wouldn’t allow their anger to lead to murder.

Most disappointingly, the Christian community has largely balked at any sort of response (probably because there is no unified Christian community to issue one), and seems awkwardly silent in the wake of such a terrible tragedy. The statements coming from Jones’ church are calloused, insensitive, and woefully unapologetic. They just don’t seem to get it. What they did cost people their lives, and continues to perpetuate harmful relations between the Christian and Muslim communities.

I will repeat it again: interfaith cooperation in America matters. We need to set the example. Otherwise, the voice of intolerance and hate rings louder than the voice of peace.

For more information on this story, follow these links: CNN, HuffPost.

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More Dispatches from Abroad: Why Interfaith in America Matters

As I mentioned in my earlier post about the Three Faiths Forum [link], I’m studying in York, England this semester on an exchange program through the University of Illinois. I’ve loved my time here: the history, the people, the pubs, and, yes… even the food.

Upon arriving in the UK, I expected to meet loads of Brits and immerse myself in British culture—and to a large extent, I have done just that. Yet much to my surprise I have met and befriended nearly as many international students as I have homegrown English ones, the likes of which come from places as far-flung as Italy, Turkey, France, Germany, Belgium, Spain, India, Switzerland, and Sweden.

Being thrust into a social group comprised of so many nationalities and identities made me scramble to position myself as an American within this expanded cultural context. What did people know of America? What did I know of their countries? They all asked me questions, they all seemed curious. What did I stand for in their eyes? There had to be  more to me than someone who doesn’t mean “soccer” when they say “football,” right?

In my flat, there are also four other American students, as well as about ten or so others from the UK and EU. Among these is a Somali-born Muslim girl around my same age who lived for a number of years in Holland. The first few days I arrived, she proved a welcome companion: she went with me on my first trip to the grocery store, helped me get adjusted to my life in a new place, and extended warmth and hospitality to me when I could have felt alone and far from home. We got along well.

Thus I was surprised when, one day, she told me in passing that she had been worried when she found out that so many American students were moving in. She said she didn’t know how we would react to her or treat her as a Somali Muslim. Though she continued on with the conversation, I stopped her there. “Wait,” I said, “why were you worried?”

She responded by saying that she didn’t think Americans liked Muslims. She hadn’t said it sarcastically; her words were tempered with honesty. “But you’re all right,” she said with a smile.

Though the conversation changed course after that, I couldn’t get her words out of my head. It bothered me that she viewed my country as prejudiced and intolerant when I had always taken pride in its idyllic virtues of freedom and justice for all. Were these virtues illusory? As a white male from an upper-middle class family in the suburbs of Chicago, I suppose it would be easy for me to see the freedom America grants. I have known privilege.

Whether a true title or not, the United States does in fact carry the label of being predominantly Christian. In some sense, what happens there does not just come across as political, but carries with it a religious tone. Other countries notice when our president says “God bless America,” and remember it well when we declare war or make policy decisions. As Christians, we must consider this. America is a big stage with a broad influence—what we do matters, what we say matters, and, more importantly, both of these things come back to reflect our faith.

Could I fault my flat mate for her less-than-positive perceptions of the United States? I thought back to last year, when Terry Jones, a Florida pastor, threatened to host a “Burn the Koran” day. His statements garnered international attention, despite the fact that back in the US he pastors a church of only 50 people. If not for his ridiculous anti-Islamic antics, he would be known by nearly no one. Yet I’m sure that his actions played heavily into my flat mate’s worries about having Americans living down the hall. And now, the protests in Orange County, the Radicalization Hearings in Washington—it’s hard not to see where she’s coming from.

Indeed, I can’t help but feel similarly about other countries that persecute Christians. Yet they don’t proclaim liberty, justice, or freedom in the same way America does. And, as someone contemplating a vocation in the church, I can’t help but think that the US should set an example for religious tolerance and cooperation, not show itself to be a less-violent version of the same prejudiced principles.

We can stand as a beacon of peace, or we can come across as the world’s wealthiest hypocrites.

While we as American Christians engage with those of other faiths in a peaceful, loving, and proactive way, we not only uphold the virtues America is said to possess, but we also demonstrate Christ’s love. Greg and I often mention Christ’s commendation “Blessed are the peacemakers” and his exhortation to love our neighbors as well as our enemies. Remember that we live in a big world, and that these virtues bear immense significance within it. How can we be better peacemakers? How can we better love our neighbors? How can we make stories of compassion and cooperation louder than stories of bigotry and strife? Join us; help answer these pressing questions.

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To Bigotry, No Sanction

Image from the Library of Congress (http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/treasures/trm006.html)

A video hit the web like a brick last week: Orange County residents rallying outside of a Muslim fundraising dinner, shouting “go home,” “why don’t you go home and beat your wife?” and “Muhammad was a pervert.”  (The actual video has been removed from YouTube on copyright claims, but here’s an informative blog entry with a screen shot)

Equally astounding are the public officials shown speaking at events related to the protests – encouraging the voices of intolerance, billing it as American patriotism.

And while there are claims that some of the speeches were taken out of context, it doesn’t detract from the severity of this demonstration.  This is a demonstration of hate.

At one point in the video, a demonstrator yells: “never forget 9/11!”

Yet the faith of the Muslim Americans I know is no more similar to the faith of Islamic extremists than my faith is to that of Eric Rudolph or to other terrorists who have killed in the name of the God of the Bible.  And consider the children who are subject to the jeering–children who are American, who have never known another home but Orange County, California, USA, and who were now being called terrorists by their neighbors.

On the other side of the country, we watch as Peter King prepares to stage “radicalization hearings” on Capitol Hill, putting an entire faith community on trial.

Last Saturday, I attended a dinner hosted by Muslim Americans in my community to talk about love for God and love for the neighbor.  Tomorrow, I will go to work in a lab with Muslim Americans – a lab where we are investigating health technologies to benefit people all over the world.  I will attend class with Muslim American medical students who are studying hard in order to heal, not destroy.  And when I drive home, I will pass a mosque that is one of the strongest voices in Champaign-Urbana for helping those in need and unifying our community.

Yet on Capitol Hill, they are being investigated for terror.

So what is the Christian church to do?  What is our response?

We follow a God who not only said “love you neighbor” but also “love your enemies“.  Yet so many have chosen to take hate for the enemy and project it on to their neighbor.  Jesus told us to turn the other cheek, yet so many have turned in fear on those who would build dialogue and peace.

I am reminded of the words of President George Washington to Moses Seixas, warden of the Jewish synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island (actually echoing Seixas’ words from an earlier letter):

For happily, the government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

As my Muslim friends reminded me at last Saturday night’s dinner, it is the love of one’s neighbor – as Jesus preached – that compels us to make the words of Washington a reality more than 200 years later.

How will you respond?

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