Dr. H. Stephen Shoemaker
Myers Park Baptist Church
Charlotte, North Carolina
November 21, 2008
CONFRONTING ANTI-SEMITISM AND ISLAMOPHOBIA
I and we of Myers Park Baptist Church feel honored to join you on this “Weekend of Twinning” where synagogues and mosques across the nation join to denounce Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. We are triplets are we not, Jews, Christians, Muslims, triplets from the same womb, the womb of God, Adonai, Abba, Allah. We’ve been estranged too long. Terrible things have been told us about our siblings, and we have believed too many of them.
Christians can only respond in horrified confession as we hear the testimony of how we have treated our Jewish and Islamic siblings. We have not known what we were doing, and we have known what we were doing.
An ancient ritual of repentance included a tearing of the robes, of the clothes. Christians tear our clothes in repentance for the religious and racial bigotry we have perpetrated and the violence it has unleashed.
Our actions have been magnified and made more harmful because of the church’s fateful alliance with Constantine: the Christian cross and the Constantinian sword. We accepted the protection and promotion of the state in exchange for our blessing of the state. So religious bigotry and the sword of the state were joined with terrible consequences for Jews and Muslims over the centuries.
Deus lo Volt!, “God Wills It!”, was the rallying cry of Pope Urban as he helped launch the Crusades.
But there are contemporary examples too. The first name our nation gave our military operation in Afghanistan was “Operation Infinite Justice!” Infinite?! However you translated that phrase into Arabic or Hebrew it sounded like “Crusade.”
In May 2005 there was a picture on the U. S. Marine website: A U.S. tank in Iraq with these words emblazoned along the gun barrel: New Testament. And the caption read:
The New Testament ... prepares to lead the way during a current mission.
The picture was soon thereafter taken off the website.
Of course there are the “little murders”, to use the phrase of Jules Pfeiffer, we commit in playground talk and office jokes, in public graffiti and email campaigns. Rabbi Schindler and Imam Akbar have borne brave testimony to Bible Belt cruelty in our city and in our nation.
In the holy scriptures “slander” against another human being is at the same time “blasphemy” against God who made us all in the divine image, male and female, Jew, Christian, Muslim.
We Christians tear our clothes: the clothes of religious, racial and moral superiority, of our theological triumphalism and the doctrine of supercessionism where we believe our religion has superceded another’s. The Apostle Paul wrote in emphatic words Christians are slow to recognize: The gifts and call of God are “irrevocable” (Romans 11:28). He was speaking of God’s gifts and call to Israel. Yes, irrevocable. And to Islam as well. If God’s word cannot be trusted, what can be trusted?
Of course that does not mean that we always hear God’s word clearly or interpret it in the Spirit of the Holy One who inspired it.
So we three congregations have begun a true experiment in peace: reading our scriptures together, Jew, Christian, Muslim. To read our scriptures only in isolation from each other skews our understanding, distorts our hearing.
As we read our scriptures together it appears to me that we each have in our scriptures a holy war, jihad, tradition and a peace, shalom, salaam tradition. The key question is: Is the war tradition the main text and the peace tradition the sub-text? Or is the peace tradition the main text and the war tradition the sub-text?
And the answer will not lie in how many verses we can count on each side, but on how we choose to interpret our scriptures, and how we interpret the spirit of God active in our world.
Rene Girard has written extensively about what he calls “sacred violence,” the violence near the human heart and near the heart of all religions. It is the violence we perpetrate in order for our tribe to survive; it is the scape-goating of certain people so we can maintain our purity. Christian, Jew, Muslim alike need to recognize how close sacred violence is to our altars and ask our God to cleanse us of such violence in the name of God.
Wendell Berry wrote these words soon after 9/11 and the first wave of intensified Islamophobia:
And now we are stirring up the question of whether or not Islam is a warlike religion, ignoring the question, much more urgent for us, whether or not Christianity is a warlike religion. There is no hope in this. Islam, Judaism, Christianity alike - - all have been warlike religions.
Is he right?
So perhaps we all three tear our robes and decide with our lives and with our speech to choose peace over war, mutual honor over slander, faith over fear and biophilia, the love of all living things, over xenophobia, the fear of the one who is different.
I close with two images of hope for the future.
The first is from the prophet Isaiah, a vision of the future which even now shapes our present: All the nations of the earth flowing to the mountain of the Lord saying, “Come let us go to the mountain of the Lord that God may teach us God’s ways and we may walk in God’s paths.” And they, filled with the Word and Spirit of God,
We have moved up that mountain tonight.
The second image comes from an early desert father named Dorotheus of Gaza. He drew a large circle with a point in the center and multiple spokes going from the circumference to the center. The center is God, and the spokes are the paths we take as we move toward God. But notice, he pointed out, as the spokes get nearer God they get nearer each other. As we move closer to God we move closer to each other. As we move closer to each other, we move closer to God. There is no other way.
As we travel our own paths toward God, Christian, Jew, Muslim, let us look around and behold one another moving closer and closer to each other.
This is the truth and hope we witness tonight.
Rabbi Judith Schindler, Temple Beth El
Imam Khalil Akbar, Masjid Ash-Shaheed