This past week, Rep. Rick Womick (R-Murfreesboro) decided to give a pseudo lecture on the Islamic faith. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m always a little skeptical when politicians start talking religion. I find that more often than not, it follows a scandal or precedes an ignorant statement. In this case it is the latter.
I’ll post the video HERE so you can see for yourself what Rep. Womick had to say about the Muslim faith, but here’s a brief summary of Womick’s Islam for Dummies:
-Not “a single Muslim” in the US Army is to be trusted, even those translators who save the lives of US soldiers every day.
-The Koran requires Muslims to kill anyone who refuses to convert to Islam.
-There is no middle ground in the Muslim faith. You either have to take it all literally, or you’re out.
-Islam is not a religion; rather it is a “rope” consisting of religion, political ideology, financial rules & legal regulations.
I want to take just a few moments and rebut these comments from a Christian perspective. I am a lifelong Christian—a United Methodist to be precise. I am actively involved in my congregation, I regularly attend a study group and I spend personal time in prayer each day. I say this not for my own gain, but to rebut any comment from those who might agree with Rep. Womick and charge that I am not sufficiently Christian.
As a Christian, I am appalled by the comment that we can’t trust any Muslims in our military. Each Sunday during the Prayers of the People, my congregation prays for all the men and women serving the country at home and abroad. During the prayer, we don’t delineate between Christian & Jew, Muslim & Buddhist, Agnostic & Unitarian—we pray for all those who make our religious freedom possible. Our men and women in uniform are from a variety of religious backgrounds and they are all fighting for the same cause—freedom. This freedom includes the freedom of religion. A great many of our Islamic brothers and sisters have fought and died for this country. Rep. Womick, himself an Air Force veteran, should understand this better than anyone. That he doesn’t is a sad commentary on my own faith.
I am not a scholar on the Koran, so I have no idea what it says about conversion. As a Christian, however, I know that before we start pointing fingers at the Koran, we better look at our own holy book. I have recently been in a Discipleship class at my church. In the class, you take a year and make your way through the Bible. We have just gotten to the book of First Samuel and, let me tell you, it’s been a rough ride so far. Up unto First Samuel, the Christian God looks like a real bastard. He wiped out the entire planet with a flood, reigned fire on a city because its inhabitants were rude to visitors, killed every first born child in Egypt, arbitrarily chose a small race of people to call his own, directed the slaughter of foreign women & children after battles, caused famine to reign over entire countries and held numerous generations accountable for the sins of their fathers.
Now, as a Christian, the preceding description is not my understanding of God. Why? Because I know that you have to read the Bible, especially the Old Testament, in context. You have to understand when it was written, where and by whom. What was the perspective, what was going on at that point in history? I realize that God didn’t hand this down from on high. It was written by man, with all his biases and prejudices built into the text. Because I understand this, I am free to see the grey area between scripture and personal experience. While I am not an expert on the Koran, my suspicion is that Muslims have a similar relationship with their holy book. This means they don’t have to take every word literally, anymore than we do.
This brings me to my second point, as a Christian I don’t take every word of the Bible literally. I don’t believe the earth was created in seven literal days. I don’t believe that Jonah lived in a whale. I doubt that Job existed. I find historical inaccuracies throughout the Exodus experience. Bel & the Dragon never happened. St. Paul was a bigot who wrote letters he never thought would become scripture and Revelation is a classic example of the literature of the oppressed. In short, a lot of my holy book is allegory, parable and even fable. While, again, I don’t know anything about the Koran, my guess is that the children of Mohammed are smart enough to know fact from fiction. This means they can, in fact, divorce themselves from a literal understanding of their holy books. Those who can’t separate the literal from the allegorical are called fundamentalist. In either faith, this is a group of misguided individuals whose represent a minority of their faith.
Finally, Rep. Womick should read the Levitical Codes before he goes on about Islam being a way of life, not just a religion. If he were to read the beginning of his own holy book—which has parts shared by all three Abrahamic faiths—he would know that we too have a set of rules concerning religion, politics, finances and law. In fact the Levitical Codes cover pretty much every aspect of life. From who you can sleep with to what fabric you can wear to what kind of bath to take after your period (gross!) Now, as a Christian, I don’t follow these codes because they are part of the old law. At some point, they probably served a purpose but, again, my intellect and reason allows me to see these rules from a different perspective. I know that they are not practical to today, nor were they meant to be. They were given to a small group of people, at a certain point in history for a specific reason. While again I am no expert on the Koran, I certainly believe that my Muslim friends are intelligent enough to apply this same logic to their own rules from their own scriptures.
This Wednesday, West End United Methodist Church, a very progressive congregation in Nashville, will host Family of Abraham-Toward a CommonVision. This event is an interfaith dialogue between Jews, Muslims & Christians. It will be a discussion on the very things Rep. Womick brought up and that I have discussed above. A close friend of mine has invited Rep. Womick to attend, but has yet to get an RSVP. I hope he will attend and I hope my Nashville friends will attend as well. As human beings, God has allowed us all to share this tiny planet for a fraction of a second. We owe it to him—and to each other—to make the best of the small time we have together. When politicians make ignorant comments like these, we set up artificial dividers. These dividers have caused war, holocaust and genocide throughout our history.
I pray every night for the people who lead this country and this state. Tonight, with tears in my eyes, I will say a special prayer for Rep. Womick. That God might soften his heart and show him that whether Muslim, Jew, Christian, Buddhist or Agnostic, we are all children of the same God and citizens of this great country.