Under threat of cosmic cataclysm (the end of the world) in the comedy movie, "Ghost Busters", para-psychologist Dr. Peter Venkman, played by Bill Murray, at an emergency "high summit" meeting in the office of the mayor of New York, offered a "non-technical" translation for the local dignitaries assembled: "That's right. Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!"
It had been a while since I had gotten into a rip-snortin' exchange of opinion on Face Book. I had learned (or so I thought) to leave others to theirs and simply pass along the occasional joke or catch up with a friend or family member. But then someone posted a piece by Franklin Graham decrying the National Cathedral's hosting of a Muslim prayer service. Other friends piled on. A "shame" and a "disgrace", they called it. A "desecration". Muslims were being compared to Baal worshipers and witches. "Mass hysteria!" And I began to wonder if there is any hope if some of us who claim to be followers of Jesus could be so non-conciliatory and indiscriminant with their hatred. But I remember that ignorance is the basis of much fear. And knee-jerk reactionism is far easier than taking the trouble to be measured and thoughtful--indeed, loving (especially if loving is to include our perceived enemies).
But I don't think these people intend actually to hate; they are some of the best and kindest people I know. They don't know what to make of a radical fringe of Islam that has declared a jihad against Western Civilization. Not having studied or experienced devout Muslims personally, they lump them all together as a group to be feared physically and spiritually (isn't that what they call prejudice?). They paint them all as wild-eyed murderers. So it is no wonder that when they hear of Muslims being invited into the National Cathedral of the Episcopal Church for a Muslim prayer service, they seriously ask (in ignorance) "Why is our National Cathedral inviting people who fly planes into our buildings in the name of Allah to offer prayers in the name of Allah? This is a desecration!" How fearful it must be for the average Muslim to be so easily lumped in with terrorists. How disingenuous it is for Christians to do this.
And about Franklin Graham. It was his blog article from which they drank this bowl of indignation, ignorance and fear. It's time for him to come out from behind his father's respected and honored robes and quit stoking the flames of mass hysteria and misunderstanding among the less educated on these matters with his cowardly potshots (the pulpit can be a coward's haven) at a denomination with which he has nothing to do (the Episcopal Church), nor any appreciation for. His rigid interpretation of scripture ("No one comes to the Father except through me"), as well as his virulent brand of xenophobia (Lord, WHY do these people always have such a big stage?) has maligned the reputation of a very large swath of humble, devout people. Indeed, these have put an innocent culture at risk. Would we Christians (seriously, think about this) deign to persecute an entire race, a heritage, a culture, a religion? Nationalism, combined with religious and racial exclusionism, can be a very dangerous brew. Read a little history, please. You don't have to go back even just a little bit.
Listen to the words of a Kenyan Christian who learned from his Anglican priest grandfather to appreciate and honor other religions:
"Today Kenyans face an enemy who is strategically creating distrust between Muslims and other religious communities, especially Christians, for his own purposes. This enemy has chosen to hide under the guise of Islam because they know that most Kenyans only understand the doctrine and ideologies of their own religion. They know that an average Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, etc tends to be completely ignorant of the doctrines and ideology of other faiths and in fact; in that funny way of religion, will often look down on other faiths and categorize them as false [if not downright evil!]."
"This enemy understands the ethnic schisms of our nation, the historical fault-lines of the Kenyan state, and the historical narratives of injustices and marginalization in our communities. He is now using this social environment to propagate a war of terrorism that he then presents to us as a warped ideology of Islam; one meant to make even the most tolerant of us angry; very angry!Unfortunately it is working. It is also turning us against genuine adherents of Islam; those people my late grandfather admired. This ignorance of other faiths and exclusivity of our own is being used against us." --NGUNJIRI WAMBUGU, in an opinion piece entitled "Kenya: We Must Not Allow Religious Intolerance to Thrive." (Credit Jim Simons in his blog "Three Rivers Episcopal": the article can be found here: http://allafrica.com/stories/201411240090.html )
There are unfortunate similarities here in the United States, where prejudice is too often the easier path taken. A journalist friend of mine, Ellen Dooley, aptly stated:
"The issues we--humans across the globe--face at this moment in history demand the deepest, most critical thought, the most rigorous scholarship, the cross-disciplinary collaboration of all people of good will--lives are at stake and the very earth shudders with grief. We do no honor to God by refusing to listen, refusing to learn, insisting that self-righteous indignation and plainspoken ignorance is superior to the thoughts and ideas and traditions of those who have devoted enormous energy and effort to the study of history, politics, theology etc.
Can we stop wringing our hands over the silly notion of "protecting" or "defending God's honor," as though the Creator were a fragile, simpering Victorian prone to fainting spells? This is the Lion of Judah we're talking about."--Ellen Dooley
As for the actual event in question, several hundred devout Muslims were invited to offer prayer in what Bp. Mariann Budde calls "a house of prayer for all people".
South African Ambassador to the United States, Ebrahim Rasool preached the sermon. Rasool and chief liturgist of the Cathedral, the Rev. Can. Gina Gilland Campbell had collaborated together on Nelson Mandela's funeral, and as they continued on in association and friendship, conceived the idea of this service as a call for peace and tolerance among the religions.
Rasool preached in part:
"Extremism is not the antidote to extremism. Extremism labels because it cannot debate. Extremism excludes because it cannot embrace. Extremism is angry because it cannot love. Extremism destroys because it cannot build. Extremism has perfected the art of dying for its cause because it has forgotten how to live for its cause."
Ironically, the hospitality of the moment was marred by an extremist, a woman who rose and interrupted, shouting:
“America was founded on Christian principles. . . . Leave our church alone!” She was swiftly ushered out by security aides, and the service continued. She was not arrested. She briefly became the poster child for those who fear sharing prayer with people of other religions.
Some may ask, "Isn't this poking a stick in the eye of a people (red-blooded Americans) who have been attacked by terrorists who claim to be Muslims?" Ask any of the many Muslims who serve in our armed forces that question. I wonder if their blood is as red as any other American's. In times like this, reason, calm and tolerance must be upheld, exampled and held out as a lamp for the nations.
As for us Episcopalians (not all of whom agree) modeling Christian hospitality and tolerance: If not us, who? If not now, when?
What we don't need in this world is encouragement toward "mass hysteria" with un-marinated, uncooked, un-filtered, un-thought-out reaction to constantly-breaking, un-marinated, uncooked, unfiltered and un-thought-out news.
We do need lots of prayer, meditation, community, acceptance and wisdom based on thought, hospitality, love and study.
For some fascinating and enlightening reading, see:
Worshiping Jesus in the Mosque
What it's like to follow Christ embedded in Muslim culture. An interview with a Muslim follower of Isa [Jesus]. at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2013/january-february/insider-movement-islam-wheres-jesus.html