I received two emails this past week that first simply annoyed me and then angered and saddened me.
The first email was a rant about how Muslims are able to shut down Madison Avenue in New York City every Friday, but Christians and Jews cannot pray publicly. The second email asked the reader to scroll down the page to see a picture of a traitor revealing a picture of President Obama at a Muslim prayer service.
It deeply concerns me that people so easily and uncritically will make such sweeping comments. So here are a few comments, hopefully a bit more thoughtful, in response.
1. The information about the Muslim prayer rally in NYC is simply wrong. Go to snopes.com or hoax-slayer.com for accurate information.
2. We do not live in a Christian nation. Rather we live in a nation that is made up of many people and many faiths. In my mind it is completely appropriate for our president, a Christian, to also participate in faith services of other religions.
3. It is true that there are enemies of the United States of America and of the American people. 9/11 shows us that some of those enemies are extremists who align themselves with perversions of Islam. It is terribly wrong to infer that all Muslims are terrorists or to imply that praying with Muslims makes one a traitor.
4. The US Constitution protects citizens against the state’s establishment of religion, and protects our right to freely exercise religious practices, and to freely assemble. This is not just a right for Christians. This is a right for all Americans regardless of faith persuasion. It is not government’s job to promote or establish any religion. It is the right of any American to practice religion without government control. It is inaccurate to say that Muslims can gather publicly but Christians or Jews cannot.
The freedoms we enjoy are so vastly different from what our Founders experienced in state-church Europe, and what we find in repressive governments around the world today.
5. We live a an increasingly global and pluralistic world. America has always been a melting pot–a place where people with many ethnic backgrounds and religious preferences have come to live. (Someone once said that there are three groups of people in America: those who were here first, those who emigrated, and those forced to come here).
Because of our pluralistic nation–the first thing we must do is learn from each other. Before we ignorantly attack a whole religion (Islam– a growing religion which makes up around 0.6% of the US population, and about 1/4 of the world’s population) we need to learn about Islam. Christianity is not a static, uniform religion (we know that Methodists are different from Roman Catholics and different from Baptists and different from Orthodox and different from Pentecostals in the US and then also around the world). Muslims are not a static group. There is great diversity among adherents of Islam. We must learn about other religions. We must spend time with those of other religions, learning from them, developing a sense of “holy envy” about what makes their religion great. Then from a point of knowledge not ignorance, we make comments and decisions.
6. While we pledge allegiance to our country, and must fend off enemies “foreign and domestic, ” there is not one way to be an American. We are Christian-Americans, and Jewish-Americans, and Muslim-Americans and Hindu-Americans and more. We are Republicans and Democrats and Independents and more. We are hyphenated people….but we are Americans, Americans in so many different shapes and forms. That makes our country great.
It is always simpler for everyone to be just like me. It is easier to generalize and to stereotype. It is harder to sift through the nonsense and get to the truth. It is harder to learn about people different from us. It is disturbing to have our view of the world challenged and our thought process stretched. It is better to have wonderful diversity and to still be together as “one nation under God with liberty and justice for all.”
We in the United States of America live our lives based on principles of freedom and justice. The liberties we enjoy are not for a select group, but rather for us all. This is the American way. This makes me proud to be an American.