Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Loving My Muslim Neighbor

Standing at the center of the Christian faith, as well as Judaism from which we emerged, are two commands.  First love God and second love one's neighbor as one's self. To flesh this out, we read in 1 John that "those who say, 'I love God,' and hate their brothers or sisters are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen" (1 John 4:20). Now, I could limit my love for my neighbor to those who are part of my faith community, but in the parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus makes it clear that such a narrowing of vision is not true to the vision of God (Luke 10:25-37). 

With this preface in mind I turn to the recent statements about Islam as a religion and Muslims as a people given by any number of religious and political leaders. The most prominent of those I have in mind are Jerry Falwell, Jr. and Donald Trump. Both men represent themselves as being Christians, and yet their words and actions seem to belie that confession. Therefore, as a Christian, as a pastor, and as one who has been a leader in interfaith work for nearly twenty years, I want to say that these voices and others like them do not represent me or my understanding of the Christian faith. These hateful words do not represent, in my estimation, the teachings of Jesus.  

I will leave aside the Falwell comments about carrying guns and using them against Muslims, for others have more than adequately dealt with them.  I will, however, address the recent statements made by Donald Trump in the aftermath of the San Bernardino shootings.  My concern here is not only with his statements, which are truly baffling, but also with the views of Muslims that he seems to be channeling. He has chosen to use his standing as a candidate for President to spew hateful words. Now, I don't know if he really believes what he's saying, but I do know that a lot of people are strongly cheering them. There is a significant segment of the population, many of whom call themselves Christians, who have supported ideas that endanger the lives of Muslims living in this country and beyond. They are presenting to the world a horrific face of the American vision. They are undermining efforts at resolving serious problems in the Middle East.  

So let's start with his "plan" to ban Muslims from coming into the country. To single out a religious community is anathema to the American vision and is unconstitutional on the basis of the first Amendment's guarantee of religious freedom. As several conservative Christians have noted, if a President can single out a Muslim for discrimination, then surely the same could happen to a Christian. If the government can close down mosques (another trial balloon) then the same could be true of churches. On a purely political level, these proposals are ridiculous and stand in opposition to the values that this country is supposed to stand for. Then there's suggestions of policies that "take out" family members of terrorists (taking out hasn't been defined, but left to the imagination that sounds rather violent) or registering Muslims, making them carry special ID (such was the policy of the Nazi's with regard to the Jews and others). This is a battle of ideas, and these ideas must be rejected. 

Now, I'm not responding just as an American citizen, though I am a citizen of this country. More importantly, I'm responding as a credentialed Christian leader (I'm an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)). I'm responding as an interfaith leader (I am the current convener of the Troy-area Interfaith Group).  I'm also responding as one who has friends who are Muslims. I know them to be gracious and generous people. They are practicing Muslims who abhor the kind of violence exhibited by the terrorist shooters in California, and terrorism in general. These are my neighbors whom Jesus has called for me to love, even as I love God.  Therefore, it is as a Christian that I stand here to oppose the hateful message of Donald Trump and all who subscribe to this message. I call on my fellow Christians to do the same. 

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