September 8, 2010
A constitutional republic which maintains as one of its essential components the freedom of speech is a beautiful and challenging thing. Freedom of speech, if taken seriously, means that you and I have to be willing to protect the right of another person to proclaim at the top of his or her lungs that which we would spend a lifetime opposing. For me, the light, life, love and reconciliation found in the fullness of the Christian Faith and communicated in the sacred writings of Holy Scripture is even more beautiful. Our Christianity informs us that just because we have a legal right to do something, doing it may be far from right.
Dr. Terry Jones, of Dove World Outreach Center, says he is planning a Quran burning. According to the United States Constitution it appears he has the right under freedom of expression to do that. Governmental, political and military leaders have spoken to suggest that doing so is not a good idea; in fact a very bad idea. Lives, innocent lives, will be put at risk. This argument does not seem to compel Dr. Jones and those loyal to his cause.
I would like to appeal to him based on an understanding of the Scriptures he and I both declare to be God’s holy word. I do not for a moment think that what I have to say will change his mind, because what I say will not get him to understand that he has confused Terrorists with Muslims. Terrorists seek to press their agenda through destruction and death. They are no respecter of nationality, race, religion, age, property or life. Remember the Unabomber and Timothy McVeigh. Muslims, people who are adherents of Islam, trace their roots, like Jews and Christians, to Abraham. Abraham’s firstborn child was Ishmael, and about Ishmael God tells us, “I will bless him, and make him fruitful … and I will make him a great nation” (Gen. 17:20).
The Holy Bible tells us many things; here are three. From the Old Testament (the Hebrew Scriptures, Genesis 56), God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah says, “…my house shall be a house of prayer for all peoples.” The point is made of including foreigners. In Paul’s compelling first letter to the Church in Corinth he tells us that “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way…” 1 Cor. 13:4-5a). Finally, Jesus sums up everything when he says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind … and love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:37 ff).
So I ask of those intent on a legal expression of malice and hatred, bound by cords of confusion equating people of other faiths with terrorists, where is the breadth in your heart, like the breadth in God’s heart, to include others? Where is the patience of your love? Where is the absence of your arrogance? Where is the love of your neighbor who may be Christian, Jew, Muslim or atheist; from any race or nation; male or female; gay or straight; young or old? I did not see any qualifiers or conditions in Jesus’ command to love your neighbor.
What you espouse does not look like any Christianity I know. But I know this: While the Constitution I know says you can do this, Baptism says you must not do this.
Finally, to my Islamic brothers and sisters: Many of us who are Christian hold you and your safety in our prayers. You do not deserve this. We understand that your conclusion of Ramadan is already constrained for fear that many will confuse your religious celebration with some celebration of the tragedy of September 11, 2001. We know that is not true. We bid you salaam.
In Christ’s peace,
S. Scott Hunter+
10th Dean of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul