Sunday, June 3, 2007

WHAT PUTS RELIGIOUS LIBERTY AT RISK?

CONCERN FOR EXTREMIST RELIGION RENEWED. If network news media is any reliable measure--and it may well not be anything near a reflection of the sentiments of most Americans, who are much less alarmist and given to exaggeration than TV news producers--the arrest of men conspiring to plan to try to cause massive explosions at JFK International is raising new concerns about Islamic extremism within the United States.

YOUR HOMELAND SECURITY DOLLARS AT WORK. More accurately, the concerns aren't new but the specter of violence being seeded from within extremist Islamic communities within the United States is being given fresh attention in light of the interrupted plot. Parenthetically: give a cheer for Homeland Security working successfully at what it's supposed to be doing with the multiple billions of taxpayer dollars now allocated to it. Ask: what specific provisions, if any, in the Patriot Act were put to use to successfully foil this plot? Also ask: were the illegal citizen wiretaps authorized by the Bush Administration used or helpful in this case?

USING THE PULPIT TO FOMENT HATRED. Even before 9/11, I wrote in Grace Notes of my concerns about the words and tenor of hatred that I heard from the imam at a Kansas City-area mosque ten years ago. I confronted the cleric about the impact of his words and he blithely passed them off as harmless rhetoric. Looking back, I see that the words were neither rhetorical nor harmless. If faithful Muslims attended that imam's Friday prayers routinely over time, the only conclusion they could come away with was that America was the great Satan that intentionally insulted the Koran and must pay for this and many other of its sins.

ON WHAT PART OF HOLY SCRIPTURES SHALL WE EXHORT? I am convinced that the preservation of religious liberty in America--whether Islamic, Christian, Jewish, etc.--counts on the leaders of local synagogues, mosques, and churches interpreting, teaching, and applying the their holy scriptures in non-inflammatory ways. It is always possible to find and cite divisive and imflammatory portions of holy scriptures. The Bible provides all the fodder one would need, from a certain point of view, to justify slavery, racism, genocide, irrational nationalistic milatarism, and holy war. Historically, all these have been justified by Christian leaders. It is equally possible to cite and exhort on portions of the Bible and other sacred scriptures that not only counter these claims, but eclipse them with a clarion call to understanding, love, and neighborliness that is the very essence of humanness and godliness.

SEEDING A FUTURE OF RELIGIOUS-BASED VIOLENCE. There are localized cells and firebrand leaders within my own faith--evangelical Christianity--that embarrass me, to say the least. At a more ominous level, I am convinced some of these right-wing Christian groups represent a threat to the integrity of the Christian faith and are fomenting a future of religious-based civil violence in America. Most of these pastors and evangelists are irresponsible and not credible (some even laughable), but their ability to influence earnest people and foment a divisive and holy-violent world view is significant.

TAKE THE BEAM OUT OF YOUR OWN EYE. So, before we tar and feather extremist Islamic community leaders and run them out of town, maybe we should take a more critical look at Christian extremism in America. What world view is being preached? What toxic assumptions go unexamined and unchallenged? What suspicions are being played to? What fears are being fanned? What people are being labeled and blamed for problems? Who's described as being and doing "evil?" How are these "problems" or sinners to be addressed? And what is the church being shaped into? We've got a long way to go to clean up our own Christian household before anyone goes about straightening out those other guys.

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