The terrorist attack in Paris and the shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., have brought tension in the United States to a new level. Many Americans are confronting legitimate fears that we could experience additional attacks here at home. Especially in the political sphere efforts are underway to exploit those fears for political gain. The latest comments by Donald Trump to ban Muslims from entering the United States are just one example. The political debate, however, is a discussion that I will consider at a later date.
For now, I want to look at the Christian response to the Muslim community, especially in America. The comments of Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., are significant. Liberty University is the largest Christian college in the United States. It enrolls more than 100,000 students, including 14,500 on campus and 95,000 on line.
Falwell, addressing the student body, encouraged students to carry concealed weapons on campus and said the school offered a program to enable them to obtain the permits. He commented, "I've always thought if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in. ..." He did later clarify that he was not talking about all Muslims.
Shane Claiborne, also an evangelical Christian, counters with a strong blog post on Religion News Service. He asks, "Are we worshipping the same Jesus?" He notes that Jesus did not carry a gun, "He carried a cross." He did not tell us to kill our enemies. "He told us to love them." He goes on to say "It is hard to imagine Jesus enrolling for the concealed weapons class at Liberty University." Finally he says, "I cannot sit idly by when a fellow Christian makes open threats to Muslims -- especially when he does so in the name of the Prince of Peace."
While Christians may have various interpretations of the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus' admonition to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39), one need not be a pacifist to agree with Claiborne's last statement. It is difficult to see how any Christian could find the comments of Jerry Falwell Jr. compatible with Christian ethics.
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We are facing a real crisis in our country over the challenges regarding our response to the Muslim community. It requires all of us to speak out regarding our common humanity, our American ideals, and our Christian values. Those who resort to fear mongering need to be challenged. We need to build bridges to the American Muslim community and develop a united front against bigotry and hate. We need to hear more in our Catholic parishes about love of neighbor, and we need to see more interfaith activities designed to help us know one another better so that we can reduce any unwarranted fears we may have.
So much of the noise we are hearing in the public discourse today is coming from those who want to eliminate anyone who is seen as different. We need to begin to hear a real clamoring from those who understand what it truly means to be an American and a Christian.