Breaking the Pattern of Demonization and Rebuttal
Remember that only last Thursday, March 10, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, held hearings that triggered fears in the American Muslim community, cheers from right-wing Christians and jeers from interfaith advocates.
What happens now?
As the media keeps our attention on Japan, let's look at where we are culturally and what we ought to do morally about an issue that will re-emerge with more meanness.
Before the hearings, the spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Ibrahim Hooper, called the hearings "a witch hunt." He said that any hearing King held would "further marginalize American Muslims and demonize Islam."
Jordan Sekulow spoke in favor of the hearings and against the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Sekulow works for his father, Jay Sekulow, at the Pat Robertson-founded American Center for Law and Justice.
Welton Gaddy, a Baptist minister and a head of the Interfaith Alliance, wrote: "By singling out one particular religious community for investigation, Representative King's hearings fly in the face of religious freedom as it is enshrined in the First Amendment to our Constitution. These hearings are not only the wrong answer to the wrong question, but in the end, they may only perpetuate the problems the Homeland Security Committee seeks to solve, as well as add to a disturbing climate of anti-Muslim sentiment extant in America today."
John Mark Reynolds, a philosophy professor at Biola University, concluded a post on the Washington Post's "On Faith" page with "God save Congressman King."
The Jewish Weekly asked in a headline, "Are Peter King's Hearings 'Un-American?'" And a journalist on the Washington Post blog "The Fix" asked if the hearings accomplished anything.
Going forward, the moral question for goodwill faith leaders is whether we will be reactive or proactive.
Our country has Christian-Muslim flare-ups on a regular pattern, with the King hearings being the most recent.
In September 2010, the nation observed an intense moment about a promised Quran burning at the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla. Goodwill Christian leaders opposed such actions and warned of dire consequences. Some conservatives held Quran-burning events.
In July and August 2010, the country had a mean-spirited exchange over building a mosque near Ground Zero. Religious liberty advocates said a mosque there would be a landmark to the nation's commitment to religious freedom. The religious right said a mosque shouldn't be built on such "hallowed ground."
In April 2010, the U.S. Army made the right call in prohibiting the Muslim-bashing Franklin Graham from speaking at the Pentagon. But lots of dust was kicked up.
In November 2009, Maj. Nidal Hasan went on a killing spree at Fort Hood, Texas, triggering inflamed rhetoric against Muslims and defensive statements by social justice and religious freedom advocates.
How do we break this counterproductive pattern of demonization and rebuttal?
Of course, we can neither predict nor prevent all violent actions and hateful plans, but we can challenge and change the dominant narratives in our culture that say Christians and Muslims are locked in a religious and physical war with one another. These narratives feed the culture war and contribute to acts of violence.
New narratives must replace old and false stories. New stories provide a way to see the world differently and more truthfully.
Introducing new narratives will require some goodwill faith leaders to move beyond leadership by press release and public statement toward equipping churches with educational resources that really help frame the issues.
The key is education and conversation in local congregations. Myths must be discussed. Common ground must be identified. Congregational leaders must prioritize outreach to the Islamic community.
EthicsDaily.com produced the documentary "Different Books, Common Word" in 2009. We hoped to get Christians and Muslims to see that goodwill Baptists and Muslims in America are engaged in interfaith dialogue and interfaith action.
Producing the documentary for ABC-TV stations was not an end in itself, but a means toward trying to change the discourse in churches and the public square.
The documentary is one tool for introducing new narratives. It is not a magic bullet, but it is one antidote to Christians hating Muslims.
If you haven't used the documentary, do you know why you are anxious about using it?
Does the common good outweigh either anxiety or inertia about addressing proactively a controversial issue?
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.
Editor's Note: To order "Different Books, Common Word," click here.