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Gregory Coles’s short autobiography—Single, Gay, Christian: A Personal Journey of Faith and Sexual Identity—is wonderfully written, refreshingly honest, and deeply personal.
Every Monday in Citizenship Confusion, Alan Noble discusses how we confuse our heavenly citizenship with citizenship to the state, culture, and the world.
This week writers across Patheos are wrestling with this question in anticipation of the coming election:
“What’s wrong–and what’s right–with the role of faith in American politics today?”
My short answer:
The increasing adoption of anti-Muslim political rhetoric by flagship Christian political institutions is one significant problem with the role of faith (Christian and Muslim) in American politics today.
Earlier this month I made the case that in order for social conservatives to regain credibility among the younger generation, they must reverse what I saw as a steady shift towards incorporating conspiratorial fears of creeping Islamification of America as a central platform of the movement. Today I’d like to explore what I meant, why I think this is an issue, and why we should be concerned.
The Family Research Council
The first time I became aware of the rising interest in vilifying Muslims by mainstream Christian groups was when the Family Research Council appointed Gen. Jerry Boykin as their Executive Vice President earlier this year. I’ve written at length about what was so objectionable and troubling about this appointment here: Citizenship Confusion: How the Culture Wars Lost Me, Or, The Family Research Council Appoints Gen. Jerry Boykin Ex. VP.
What’s relevant now is that Gen. Boykin has a history of making inaccurate and harmful statements about Islam and Muslims. From my column:
At the start of this video, Boykin says that Muslims should have the right to worship, but it’s not entirely clear how we are supposed to reconcile that statement with the one quoted above. Similarly, he once said on a radio show, “Seal the borders and eliminate sanctuary cities and they’ll go home. No mosques in America. Islam is a totalitarian way of life; it’s not just a religion.” He later stated that he misspoke and was actually referring to the Ground Zero Mosque, but as RightWingWatch shows, that excuse doesn’t add up. He’s had several other major Islam-related gaffs; one was even denounced by then-President Bush.
FRC is widely considered to be one of the most influential Christian political advocacy groups in America, with revenue of over $13 million dollars in 2011, a large staff, and numerous publications and political events, like the Values Voter Summit. For the Family Research Council to choose to appoint a public figure who is best known for allegedly casting the war on terror as a religious war against Islam and for other disturbing and unloving statements about Muslims shows that at the very least they are willing to be intimately connected with such views of Islam, and it could even indicate the adoption of a more explicit anti-Muslim agenda from the group. For more on Gen. Boykin’s views on Islam and his appointment at FRC, see Boykin’s World.
The American Center for Law and Justice
As unsettling and disappointing as FRC’s openness to radical views on Muslims is, it pales in comparison to the rhetoric from the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative group designed as an alternative to the ACLU. ACLJ has a history of fighting against what it perceives as the Islamic threat in the US; for example, the ACLJ tried to block the building of the Ground Zero “Mosque.”
On their very popular Facebook page they have been posting images calling for the end of US foreign aid to “radical regimes,” particularly in light of the protests and violence of Sept. 11th, 2012.
Setting aside the horrible logic used in these images which claim that since “They” tore and burned our flag we should cut their aid–as if the radical elements who attacked us represented their governments and peoples–what is truly frightening is the ACLJ’s willingness to deceive their readers about Muslims in order to promote their agendas.
For example, in one image the ACLJ allegedly quotes the newly elected president of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, as telling Christians to “Convert, pay tribute, or leave.” What they don’t tell you is that this quote is not from some official proclamation to Christians, as they imply, but rather from a lone interview Morsi had with a single reporter. Given the unstable status of Egypt at the time, it would not be at all surprising if this quote were inaccurate, which is exactly the conclusion this analyst came to. In any case, it’s hardly reliable enough to make the unambiguous and bold claim that Morsi is planning to subjugate or deport all Christians.
Similarly, they wrongly claim that Christians have been crucified by the new regime in Egypt. Unfortunately, the ACLJ does not feel it necessary to support their radical statements in these images with reliable sources, or any sources for that matter. But I assume they are referring to the reports that anti-Morsi demonstrators were attacked and crucified in front of Morsi’s palace in August, a rumor that was all-but thoroughly debunked in the National Post. Even if there is some truth to the rumors, this image gives the impression that Morsi ordered the executions, when the rumors alleged that it was the work of Muslim Brotherhood “operatives”–who could or could not be under the control of Morsi’s regime.
Even worse, the image claims that it was specifically Christians who were being crucified, when in fact the rumors–which, again, have been debunked–claimed they were secular protesters. Oddly enough, the Christian Post and Spero News also state or imply that Christians were crucified, even though (in the case of CP) they later go on to explain that the victims were secular protesters. What this shows is a willingness to deceive in order to promote the idea that Christians are being killed by barbarous Muslims. In fact, the only link attached to these last two images on Facebook is to this page, which asks Christians to help “stop genocide of Christians in Egypt” by signing a petition calling on the government to stop funding them. Certainly Egypt is a mess and Christians are being persecuted there, but there’s a long way from persecution to genocide. Particularly if your reports of crucifixions lack actual sources.
The Thomas More Law Center
Like the ACLJ, the Thomas More Law Center sees itself as a Christian ACLU and is known for its use of litigations to support social conservatism. TMLC lists “Confronting the Islam Threat” among its five Key Issues, along with things like preserving the sanctity of life and restoring family values–traditional social conservative issues. Unlike FRC and ACLJ, the Thomas More Law Center is unafraid to embrace some of the most extreme conspiracy theories about Muslims in America. Here’s what they have to say on their page:
Radical Muslims and Islamic organizations in America take advantage of our legal system and are waging a “Stealth Jihad” within our borders. Their aim is to transform America into an Islamic nation. They have already infiltrated the highest levels of our government, the media, our military, both major political parties, public schools, universities, financial institutions and the cultural elite.
This MacCarthyism for the 21st century is dangerous and unloving to our Muslim neighbors. It cultivates unjustified and hurtful suspicion and can lead directly to bad foreign and domestic policies.
Another example of the TMLC’s radical embrace of what some might call “Islamophobia” can be seen in the rhetoric about Muslims used in their defense of LTC Dooley. Dooley was relieved of his teaching position in the military because of the offensive and inaccurate way he was portraying Muslims and Islam. Wired has a very thorough report on this case, if you are interested. Essentially, by at least some accounts LTC Dooley was invoking the very common narrative which says that Muslims are inherently violent and their beliefs are incompatible with the American Way. Regardless of whether or not his teaching was wrong–and I think that it very much was–the language TMLC uses to defend him is clearly offensive and wrong:
Our military, while conducting the difficult task of threat analysis, does not have the luxury of hiding from potentially offending those who would do us harm. It is precisely our refusal to consider the often irrational, volatile nature of those who do not think with our western world view that has led us to this crisis of conscience. Those people who subscribe and enforce the current environment of political correctness are the ones most often surprised by incidents like the terrorism at Ft. Hood and the uncivilized behavior currently roiling North Africa and the Middle East.
Keep in mind that this is not merely an issue of “offense,” but of simply being wrong about the war on terror and the nature of US/Muslim relations. But note this language: “the often irrational, volatile nature of those who do not think with our western world view.” Savages. They mean to say savages.
Again, this is a popular and inexcusable way of thinking of our Muslim neighbors–even the radical ones who want to kill us. By writing them off as irrational, religious fanatics who cannot be reasoned with and who hate us simply because we are prosperous we are treating them like savages, cutting off opportunities to hear genuine grievances, and advocating violence as the only means to “reason” with “them.” For more on this ideology, please read William Cavanaugh’s The Myth of Religious Violence–probably one of the most helpful books on US/Muslim relations and the rise of new atheism.
American Family Association*
Like FRC, AFA’s emphasis is upon public policy recommendations, lobbying, and using media (radio and TV) to promote biblical values. In 2011, it had a revenue of almost $18 million, making it a serious and influential force in evangelical circles, which is surprising considering how radical and controversial the group is. Perhaps most notable among their controversial figures is Bryan Fischer, who hosts the talk radio show, Focal Point and serves as their Director of Issues Analysis–a disturbing position considering his tendency to make unloving, inaccurate, and unChristian statements.
One of his main concerns is with the treat of Islam destroying America. Of course, there is really no question that there are radical Muslim groups seeking just this goal, and they must be sought out and stopped before they commit acts of violence. But Fischer’s solution is much, much more extreme:
1. Stop immigration from Muslim-majority nations.
2. Prevent Muslims from serving in the military.
3. Stop the building of Mosques in the US.
In a recent blog post, Fischer again argues that we must stop immigration from Muslim-majority nations, since we can’t really trust Muslims:
While it is true that there are moderate Muslims, there is no such thing as moderate Islam. And while there are moderate Muslims, no one has yet developed a error-free way to tell the difference between the Muslims we have to worry about and the ones we don’t.
Until that day comes, we must be cautious about them all.
As a good friend observed, by this logic, Fischer should call for the end of all immigration, since humans tend to be dangerous creatures in general. It should also be noted that under this vile and bigoted proposal Christian brothers and sisters would be prevented from fleeing persecution and suffering.
Again, what’s significant here is not that there exists a group of Christians who are bringing great dishonor to Christ, but that this man who advocates unequivocally unChristian and immoral positions regularly takes part in political events with mainstream evangelicals and conservative political leaders. For example, Fischer has spoken many times at the Values Voter Summit. Fischer and the AFA are not fringe provocateurs, preaching in an echo chamber. They are welcomed into the heart of the social conservative movement with other Christians.
What’s wrong with the role of faith in American politics today?
To return to the question at hand, let me reiterate that one thing that is deeply wrong with the how the Christian faith is influencing politics at this time is the way deceptive, conspiratorial, unloving, and radical anti-Muslim rhetoric has found its way into the heart of some of our most influential and powerful political institutions. I pray that we can repent of this harmful and immoral agenda and devote ourselves to loving those who persecute us, particularly when they actually persecute us.
*Updated 10/19/2012 to include AFA.
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