Christianity and Islam: What American Christians need to know about Muslims
Workplace management quiz. Tom and Dick have the same management rank. Hector is much lower on the totem pole. One day Tom calls Dick a “loser,” then claims (without evidence) that Hector’s family consists of “rapists.” Tom makes both comments in public, for all to hear. Which of Tom’s comments most calls for discipline?
If you think that Tom should be reprimanded for insulting Dick and that we don’t need to bother with the comment about Hector’s family, then you agree with “America’s Pastor.”
I try to avoid several things in this blog. I’ve steered away from writing about the upcoming election, and I have avoided criticizing Christian leaders by name. But only days before “Super Tuesday” a well-known Texas pastor made a comment with a clear political intent which warrants response. So in this post I name names, even as it pertains to the Republican primary. I hope to get back to writing about how Muslims feel about things next week.
Last Wednesday, Max Lucado criticized Donald Trump on his blog. I assume that most of you are familiar with Rev. Lucado: he is a leading devotional writers, and in 2005 was named “America’s Pastor” by Christianity Today. I’ve read several of his books and I can attest that he is a gifted communicator with a generally good reputation.
He entitled his post “Decency for President.” For Lucado, Trump’s lack in this area makes him unfit to be president. He wrote,
“I don’t know Mr. Trump. But I’ve been chagrined at his antics. He ridiculed a war hero. He made mockery of a reporter’s menstrual cycle. He made fun of a disabled reporter. He referred to the former first lady, Barbara Bush as ‘mommy,’ and belittled Jeb Bush for bringing her on the campaign trail. He routinely calls people ‘stupid,’ ‘loser,’ and ‘dummy.’ These were not off-line, backstage, overheard, not-to-be-repeated comments. They were publicly and intentionally tweeted, recorded, and presented.”
A few days later, Lucado was interviewed about his post by Christianity Today. He described his decision to post as follows:
“In this case, it’s not so much a question about particular policies or strategies about government or even particular opinions. It’s a case of public derision of people. It’s belittling people publicly. It would be none of my business, I would have absolutely no right to speak up except that he repeatedly brandishes the Bible and calls himself a Christian.”
So Lucado feels compelled to speak out because Trump calls himself a Christian and publicly insults people. I agree with Lucado that Trump’s behavior is not Christ-like: insulting comments and behavior hurt our efforts to have reasoned conversation. Christians should do much better.
The problem, however, is that Lucado ignores things said by Trump that are, from a Christian perspective, much, much worse. In his announcement speech, Trump called Mexican immigrants “rapists,” claiming that they bring drugs and crime with them. He has never retreated from those comments. Then, in the wake of the San Bernardino shooting, Trump called for a ban on Muslim travel, after previously calling for surveillance of all American mosques and a database of Muslims.
These comments by Trump are not just rude; they have potentially serious consequences. Unlike Kelly and the Bushes, Mexican immigrants and American Muslims really can be hurt by Trump’s rhetoric. When our leaders make nasty comments about groups of people, they give life to stereotypes which divide us. Trump’s comments about Mexicans and Muslims are blatantly untrue, but his repetition of these things causes people to believe that Mexicans and Muslims are dangerous.
Trump is a fear monger. He uses fear in order to promote his agenda: fear is his tool to get people to vote for him. As I’ve shown previously, Americans are in much less danger from Muslims than from non-Muslim gun violence. Instead, Muslims are in danger from Americans: the New York Times recently reported that there have been no fewer than thirty-eight “hate” crimes against Muslims since November of last year. But if Trump can get people to ignore facts and concentrate on their fear, he can get attention and votes.
Trump’s targets as named by Lucado are and will remain perfectly safe. They are on Trump’s social level: rich, powerful, secure. John McCain is a respected US Senator; Megan Kelly hosts a popular primetime show; Jeb and Barbara Bush are members of one of America’s most powerful families. Even Serge Kovaleski, the handicapped New York Times reporter, has media access to counter Trump’s insults. None of these people needs Lucado to stand up for them.
Mexicans and Muslims, however, need all the help they can get. They are less rich and have less political sway than most of us, and their position in the United States is hardly secure.
Why does Lucado decry insults against Jeb Bush, but not against Muslims? As ugly as it sounds, I suspect that it comes down to politics. In Christianity Today, Lucado lauds Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio. These men have all criticized Trump for his insults, but none particularly stood up for Mexicans or Muslims. If Lucado were to complain about Trump’s comments about Mexicans, would we remember that, as others condemned those comments, Cruz declared that Trump should not apologize? Decrying Trump for this behavior now would make it hard to justify admiration for Cruz. That’s politics, but it is not a good imitation of Christ.
One thing that you will not see in Lucado’s post or in his Christianity Today interview is any appeal to Scripture. Lucado complains that Trump has “held up a Bible” and has read from it, without practicing what it says. Yet somehow Lucado chooses to defend the rich and powerful (Bush, Kelly) ahead of the weak. By objecting to Trump’s rhetoric regarding his peers while ignoring his comments about the weak and powerless, Lucado ratifies Trump’s comments about Mexicans and Muslims, and implicitly approves the persecution of American Muslims supported by Trump and other politicians.
The call of the Christian is to defend those who do not have wealth or power. “Decency” is nice, but for the Christian, much, much more important is justice for the weak. If Christians must delve into the modern American political muck, let’s be sure that we are truly are motivated by the concerns of Christ.
A Christian blog and podcast by Ray Burns.
Helping modern readers engage with ancient biblical texts