On Meet the Press a week ago, Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama for president. His comments were interesting from a political perspective—a Republican military leader endorsing a Democratic presidential candidate--but far more interesting to me were Powell’s comments on religion. He addressed the persistent accusations and rumors that Barack Obama is a Muslim by saying,
“It is permitted to be said such things as, "Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim." Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president?”
CNN’s Campbell Brown asked a similar question in an on-air commentary,
“So what if Obama was Arab or Muslim? So what if John McCain was Arab or Muslim? Would it matter? When did that become a disqualifier for higher office in our country? When did Arab and Muslim become dirty words? The equivalent of dishonorable or radical? Whenever this gets raised, the implication is that there is something wrong with being an Arab-American or a Muslim. And the media is complicit here, too. We've all been too quick to accept the idea that calling someone Muslim is a slur. I feel like I am stating the obvious here, but apparently it needs to be said: There is a difference between radical Muslims who support jihad against America and Muslims who want to practice their religion freely and have normal lives like anyone else."
I agree with Powell and Brown. There is a larger issue at stake here than whether or not Barack Obama is a Muslim or not. That issue is what kind of society do we wish to live in? It hurts us all when members of both parties demonize the adherents of a particular religion. It may seem strange that a Christian minister would be writing about prejudice against Muslims during an election season, but from my perspective it feels like a very Christian thing to do. As we read in worship this past Sunday, Jesus taught us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We revere this commandment as “the Golden Rule,” but I believe that we have heard it so often that we trivialize it and give little thought to its implications. One of them should be that since we do not like to be on the receiving end of unfair stereotypes or generalizations, we should not make them about others. The overwhelming majority of Muslims are not terrorists and only want to live in peace. I would oppose a Muslim fundamentalist imposing his will through government, just as I oppose Christian fundamentalists doing the same. Although I hold different religious beliefs than Muslims, I can and have found common ground with Muslims to help our society as a whole.
Furthermore, just as we Christians hope that others would work and speak out to make sure that we are not the victims of prejudice based on our religion, we who are called to love our neighbors as ourselves should speak out and work on behalf of others who face prejudice because of their religion. It is the Christian thing to do to stand up for the rights of people to practice their religion free of prejudice, even if that religion is not our religion.
Despite the misplaced and misguided declarations of America being a Christian nation, I believe that only people can be Christians not nations. I believe one of the great strengths of our nation is that it creates a level playing field for all religions to freely coexist together. I don’t need my government to defend my God. My God can do that without the government’s help, thank you very much. I believe Christianity is credible enough to stand on its own no matter the religious views of political leaders. So, I believe that a Muslim has as much right as a Christian or a Hindu or an atheist to be president or participate in any other way in our society. Guaranteeing the freedom of all to practice their faith is the only way to guarantee my freedom to practice mine.
Grace and Peace,