A Wish for Christians
By L. Janelle Dance
This past decade of my life has been enriched by close relationships with persons from various Middle and Near Eastern origins. Some of these persons have been Americans others have been Swedes or, more specifically, persons designated in Sweden as “New Swedes” (I have spent roughly three of the last six years living and conducting research in Sweden). Some of my friends of Middle and Near Eastern origins have been Christians, others have been Muslims, others have been Zoroastrians, others still have been Secular Humanists, and a couple have been Kurdish-Israeli Jews. None have been Terrorists. I should not even have to make this “none have been Terrorists” assertion but I do so to counter stereotypes enlivened by the debate over the Islamic Center in New York City. So, allow me to repeat, not a single one of my friends is or ever has been a Terrorist!
Actually all of my friends of Middle and Near Eastern origins have uniformly condemned acts of terrorism. More specifically, all of my Muslim friends in Sweden and the U.S. have denounced the 9-11 attacks on the New York World Trade Center. Many have apologized for the attacks on the World Trade Center though they had absolutely nothing to do with it. Those who apologized did not do so out of guilt, for they have no reason to feel guilty. They were sincerely appalled and deeply saddened by what had been done in the name of Islam. I agree. It is deplorable that there are radical Muslims who kill innocent persons in the name of God. It is equally deplorable that there are radical Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and other extremists who kill in the name of their religion.
Allow me to speak exclusively about my Muslim friends:
I believe my Muslim friends represent most Muslims.
My personal observations about peace-loving, tolerant, hospitable Muslims are also supported by studies conducted at universities like Duke, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and the University of Maryland’s Program on International Public Attitudes. My personal observations are also supported by research by John L. Esposito of Georgetown University and Dalia Mogahed of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies. In Who Speaks for Islam?: What a Billion Muslims Really Think, Esposito and Mogahed use the Gallup World Poll of 35 nations with significant Muslim populations and find that, like Americans, the vast majority of Muslims polled reject radicalism and terrorism. Likewise, FBI data on terrorist acts committed on U.S. soil from 1980 to 2005 reveal that 94% of the extremist groups who posed a terrorist threat to U.S. soil are not radical Muslims. Moderate Muslims posed no threat at all.
Now, allow me to speak about many of my Christian friends:
I am worried that my Christian friends represent most Christians.
Of course, there are Christians who personify--(or have personified when they were alive)--love and compassion: Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., my grandmother (Anna J. Dance), members of my Baptist church, persons with whom I work at the University of Nebraska, clients in my Group Cycle classes at Prairie Life Fitness in Lincoln, Nebraska and at Gold’s Gym in Alexandria, Virginia, and so on. These persons were/are not perfect but they have embodied the compassion and love of Christ in their interactions with others. If you are such a Christian, then this op-ed is not addressed to you. My concern is that these “do-unto-others-as-you-would-have-others-do-unto-you” (Matthew 7:12), “turn-the-other-cheek” (Luke 6:29) Christians are in short supply!
Therefore, this article is addressed to:
1) Christians who spread hostility in the name of Christ (such as Newt Gingrich who equated Imam Feisal Rauf and others behind the planned Islamic Center in New York with radical Muslims and Nazis).
2) Christians who make hateful and ignorant statements like “Islam is of the Devil!”
3) Christians who assert, “I don’t pray to Allah; I pray to Jesus/God!”
First of all, the comparison of Imam Rauf and other peace-loving Muslims to Nazis is malicious and inappropriate. It has no more basis in reality than equating peace-loving Christians with Nazis (many of whom were radical Christians) and with radical Muslims.
Secondly, the statement that “Islam is of the Devil” is an oxymoron. “Islam” means “to make peace” or “to surrender” and specifically to the will of God. So when someone says, “Islam is of the devil” they are saying, “Submission to the will of God is of the devil!”
Thirdly, the God to whom Muslims submit is not just any god (for example, Ra, Zeus, Thor, and so on) but the very same God of Abraham that Christians and Jews pray to and to whom Jesus referred when he prayed, “Our Father, who art in heaven, Holy is Thy name…”
There are radical Muslims who spew hate at Christians. But I do not associate with radical Muslims; nor do I associate with radical Christians. But I do spend a lot of time with moderate-everyday-Christians. And, unlike, my moderate-everyday-Muslim friends, many moderate Christians say hateful things 24/7/365 and they do so in the name of Christ!
Just as I have experienced peace-loving Muslims as the norm for Islam, I would like to experience compassionate Christians as the norm for Christianity. My wish for Christians is that they do unto others as Christ would do and spread peace, tolerance, love, and kindness. When my Muslim friends ask me, “Why do so many Christians hate in the name of Christ and say heinous and ignorant things about Islam?” I want to say from experience, “Just like radical Muslims are not the norm for Islam, hateful Christians are NOT the norm for Christianity!”
L. Janelle Dance
Associate Professor of Sociology and Ethnic Studies at the University of Nebraska
Guest Scholar and Researcher at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University in Sweden