A new surge of anti-Muslim feeling is breaking across the United States. The situation is serious enough that the Islamic Society of North America felt that it needed to host an emergency interfaith summit on Tuesday followed by a press conference at the National Press Club.
From the bitter opposition to the mosque near Ground Zero to the planned burning of the Quran at the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., from the arson at the construction site for the future mosque in Murfreesboro, Tenn., to the hateful comments from the pulpit of a prominent Dallas church, we’re experiencing a counterproductive cultural wave that has already washed around the world with negative consequences and promises more problems to come.
From my vantage point as a Christian, I think that two sounds from within U.S. Christianity have played and are playing a part in this surge of anti-Islamic feeling. One is the certain sound of hate. The other is the “uncertain sound” of ambiguity.
Fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals issued years ago and continue to deliver a sure call that Christianity is at war with Islam. They have played that note with redundancy regardless who was in the White House. They rejected President Bush’s statement that “the practice of tolerance is a command of faith.” They criticized President Obama’s speech in Cairo that advanced interfaith respect and engagement.
Leaders of this wing of Christianity have made incendiary remarks. Former Southern Baptist Convention president Jerry Vines said in June 2002 that “Islam was founded by Muhammad, a demon-possessed pedophile.” Franklin Graham said in August 2002, “I believe the Quran teaches violence. It doesn’t teach peace, it teaches violence.” Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, said only two weeks ago in the church sanctuary that Islam is “an evil religion.”
Such inexcusable remarks deeply offend Muslims and validate the prejudice among conservative Christians.
Accompanying such a certain sound is an “uncertain sound” from moderate Christians.
Too many moderate Christians, especially clergy, have been muted or confusing in their comments about Islam and Muslims. They have been silent or vacillated.
Muted and hesitant leadership has left many people of faith with the lack of theological clarity for how to think about and relate to those of a different faith.
Apostle Paul noted, “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” (1Corinthians 14:8).
Indeed without a certain sound too many goodwill U.S. Christians are too unclear about how they should seek the welfare of the Muslim stranger in their midst and why they should speak up for religious liberty.
One would be remiss not to acknowledge that some U.S. Christian clergy have been forthright in advancing the common good with Muslims, not in an attempt to water down their own faith but in an effort to fulfill Jesus’ commandment to love neighbor.
Too little credit, for example, has been assigned to the goodwill faith leaders in Gainesville, Fla., who issued a statement that said in part: “We state clearly the act of burning the sacred Scripture of Islam has no place in our faith, our religious communities, our town or in our nation.”
They have issued a certain sound.
For those of us who are Christians, we know that God “hath not give us the spirit of fear” (2 Timothy 1:7) and “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33).
Awash in a culture of fear and soaked in confusion, we need faith leaders with courage and clarity for the common good.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. A shorter version of this editorial appeared earlier on the Washington Post’s “On Faith” Web page.
Robert M. Parham (1953 – 2017) was the founder and executive director of Baptist Center for Ethics from 1991 to 2017. He served as executive editor of EthicsDaily.com, BCE’s website, from its launch in 2002 until 2017.