And it is also true: those who are NOT Christians, can be more Christ-like in loving people, than we Christians - and again we are blind to this, because in our zeal we believe our actions toward groups of people are born out of our devotion to Christ and the bible, and thus we confuse bigotry for love in a most perverse way.
I think a prime example of this has played out before the citizens of Jacksonville, Florida, in the past month, and this should be a wake-up call to evangelicals, and Baptists especially. Let me explain.
On Tuesday May 10, 2010, at the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida, a man planted and detonated a pipe bomb at the exit of the building while 50 or so Muslims were inside. The FBI has said this blast if detonated inside the building would have caused numerous casualties. Security cameras captured the image of the man who did this dastardly deed, but as of yet he has not been caught. A $20,000 reward has been offered for information leading to his arrest.
While in the past year leading up to this bombing it seems Baptists in Jacksonville have expressed more fear of than love toward our fellow citizens who are Muslims - this week it was reported that a local Jewish men's group from the Jacksonville Jewish Center actually demonstrated an act of love toward Muslims by offering their services to repair the damage to the Islamic Center from the blast.
As this News4Jax article points out, the day of the bombing, May 10, 2010 was also the day that Parvez Ahmed, a Muslim and a professor at the University of North Florida first took his place on the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission. As the article points out, this might just be a coincidence, but I definitely think it is NOT a coincidence. I tend to think this was a message being sent to the Muslim community that they are not welcome to participate in local politics.
How does this connect back to Baptists?
Mr. Ahmed's appointment to the Human Rights Commission by the Republican Mayor John Peyton was met with much opposition by members of the Jacksonville City Council who needed to affirm Ahmed's appointment. Four of the members of the City Commission are members of First Baptist Jacksonville, and the two most outspoken against Ahmed's appointment were councilmen Clay Yarborough and Don Redman (the other two FBC Jax council members did vote to affirm Ahmed).
Clay Yarborough sent a series of questions to Ahmed about God, gay marriage, and his ties to Islamic groups in advance of the council meetings discussing his appointment. But when Times Union reporter Mark Woods asked similar questions to Yarborough, he got some troubling responses:
That is unbelievable. A long-time Baptist, a member of First Baptist Church, an elected official in the United States of America, and he "doesn't know" if a Muslim should be able to hold any public office in Florida.
Woods: "Do you believe Muslims should be able to hold public office in Florida? Some of those who have criticized your questions have wondered if that’s what you were getting at ... "
Yarborough: "That wasn’t the intention of the questions."
Woods: "OK, but do you believe Muslims should be able to hold a public office in Florida?"
Yarborough: “I would have to think about that. I would have to think about that. What kind of office? An elected office? Would you consider the human rights commission to be a public office?”
Woods: "Just in general, do you believe Muslims should be able to hold any public office in Florida?"
Yarborough: “I don’t know.”
I know. Most Americans know. Mark Woods knows. The answer is that any American should be able to hold any public office, regardless of their faith, if they are duly elected or appointed.
Next is Don Redman, long-time member also at FBC Jax, and I've already blogged about him trying to get Mr. Ahmed to "pray to your God" in front of the City Council at Mr. Ahmed's confirmation vote. This gained some national attention, and served to embarrass our city as a bunch of redneck hicks. To Redman's credit, he did later apologize to Mr. Ahmed.
And I don't point these examples out to blast Yarborough or Redman. I know Yarborough from my days at FBC Jax, and he is a fine young man. But I think too many of us Baptists have this same mindset as Yarborugh and Redman of fearing Muslims and their religion.
Where do we Baptists lay folk get this? Perhaps we get it from our preachers. As I blogged in 2009, preacher Jim Smyrl at FBC Jax expressed concern that this same Islamic Center that was bombed in May 2010 dared to put up "domes", while Christians did nothing about it. His sermon, almost exactly 1 year prior to the bombing, was in the context of motivating the congregation to convert Muslims, but Smyrl engaged in what I consider fear mongering by saying:
"I'm riding my motorcycle down 9A the other day. I look over, and the dome on Jacksonville's newest Muslim mosque is being put in place. It's amazing,Unbelievable. Let's convert these Muslims or we'll all be under Muslim law, says Smyrl, implying of course that Muslims in America do NOT like our freedoms and long to change our system of governance. This is absolutely ridiculous. Muslims here in this country cherish the freedoms we have to worship and live our lives and have come here to precisely because of our freedoms. Sure, there are some extremist Muslims who both might want the country ruled according to their religious doctrines - but hey, I think we can say the same about some fanatical Christians. But to characterize the vast majority of Muslims as wanting to put us under Muslim law is ignorant and offensive, and it helps institutionalize the fear that Baptists lay people like Yarborough and Redman, and many of us, have displayed.
Christians will rally for everything but what God says is important...But when it comes to engaging the enemy and the greatest weapon he's used in the last 1400 years, listen, to conquer all of Asia, to conquer much of Europe, what he's doing today he's doing it the same way with Islam in America today and the church is silent. And a big dome goes up in our city and we sit back passively and say 'Well, if that's what they want to believe, alright." Well, get ready brother, 'cause your grandchildren are going to come under Muslim law if you keep silent."
And where do our Baptist preachers get this mindset? Who has been our source of information about Islam in Southern Baptist circles since 9/11? Well, none other than Ergun Michael Caner, who really is not the Islamic expert that we thought. For crying out loud, he characterizes his time as a youth at his Islamic center in Columbus as "Islamic Youth Jihad", being "trained to do that which was done on 11 September". I think many Baptists believe Caner - that all Muslims in America who are devout are just terrorists waiting to happen.
But the point is: if we love Muslims and want them to experience freedom in Christ, how do we show it? Do we express doubts about their constitutional rights as citizens? Should we assume they want to put us under Muslim law and are going to kill us? Do we embarrass them at a public hearing demanding they pray to their god for us? Do we do it by elevating and celebrating an embellishing preacher who uses terms like "sand nigger" and "towel head" to describe Muslims, to the position of seminary president? Should our motivation to convert them be out of fear before they strap a bomb on, as Caner testified about himself ("Jesus died on the cross so I wouldn't have to strap a bomb on to myself")?
Or can we perhaps learn something from our Jewish friends, who extended the hand of friendship to the Muslims at the Islamic Center and said, "Let us help you repair the damage from the pipe bomb." An unexpected act of kindness from a group of another faith.