“Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.” (Rom. 12:21)

I read a disturbing article in Sunday’s New York Times (“Across Nation, Mosque Projects  Meet Opposition” 8/8/10, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/08/us/08mosque.html?th&emc=th). Protests against building or expanding Mosques are occurring in many places, far beyond Ground Zero in NYC. For many, evidently, the issue really is not about sensitivity to building a Mosque near the location of the horrific violence in 2001, but a larger reaction against Islam. The accurate and reasonable demand that we defend ourselves against violent Islamic fundamentalists is becoming a more generalized fear directed, inaccurately, toward an entire religious movement. The leading photograph is of a woman holding a sign that reads “Mosques are Monuments to Terrorism.”  This is not very different from the mixture of fear and anger that led to the internment of Japanese citizens at the beginning of WWII.

There is a movement, at least among some people and some politicians (I hope a very limited minority), to deny Muslims the religious freedom which is one of the defining characteristics of our nation. To do so would be to diminish ourselves and our nation. To do so  would be to let ourselves be governed by reactivity and fear, no matter what language is used to justify it.  When this happens, we paradoxically become more like the thing we are afraid of. We fear a movement that denies basic human freedoms and represses its citizens, so we respond by repressing our own people.

There is a story I heard so long ago that I forget where I heard it (and so, unfortunately cannot give proper credit to its source) that speaks to the choices that are in front of us. I have used this story in many sermons, so if you have heard me preach you have probably heard this story. But it is worth repeating.

There was an old man who would sit every morning under a certain tree by a river outside of his village to pray. One morning following heavy rains, the river was swollen and rushing by the tree. While praying the old man noticed a scorpion fighting for its life in the water. As the river came near the tree, the scorpion became caught in the tree roots that extended into the river. The man watched the scorpion struggle for its life, clinging to the tree roots.

Instinctively the man reached down to pull the scorpion out of the water. As he did, the scorpion stung his hand. He pulled his hand back and then reached again to the scorpion, and again the scorpion stung his hand. The struggle continued. The old man was determined to pull the scorpion out of the river. The scorpion instinctively struck at his hand.

A young man riding his horse near the river saw what was happening, and stopped to watch this mini drama. Finally he said to the old man: “You stupid old man, don’t you know that that vicious insect only wants to harm you and will not stop stinging your hand?  Why do you keep trying to save it? Just let it drown.”

The old man looked up to him and said: “It is the scorpion’s nature to do harm. Because its nature is to do harm, why should I let it change my nature which is to save?”

Why should we allow the violence, the evil, the fearfulness, the intolerance of fundamentalist extremists make us fearful and intolerant? If we do, then they win.

The apostle Paul spoke to the challenge well many years ago when he wrote: “Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.” (Rom. 12:21) It was a challenge in the 1st century. It is a challenge in the 21st century.

Fortunately, the Times article did report that where some have acted to deny basic rights to our Muslim neighbors, many others have stood up to defend them.

What is at risk is not only the civil rights of our neighbors, but our character as a people.

Dialogue on Racism

I enjoy watching the news and I do have an interest in politics. I generally keep it to myself (which is probably where it belongs; I am far from well informed on most of this). But from time to time what is happening seems to require a more public stance.

The events surrounding the racist signs and gestures that appear at some Tea Party gatherings, the response from the NAACP, and the response from Mark Williams, a prominant Tea Party spokesperson have prompted me to place this post on my blog. Additionally, since St. Paul’s mission statement takes a stance against racism, I thought this to be appropriate.

I am amazed that the kind of blatant racist postures have become more acceptable and are gaining prominence in our public discourse. One of the dynamics making this possible is the shifting nature of racism. The older in your face kind of racism is still real for sure. But more often now people who would never publicly disparage a person of a different racial or ethnic heritage, who would be deeply offended to be called a racist, are amazingly blind to, or in denial of, the racism that inhabits the ideology and systems that they otherwise defend. They would say: “I am not a racist, but…”

It strikes me that this is what is underneath the comments by Mark Williams in the dialogue that has been ongoing around issues of race and the Tea Party.

Here are three links for you to go to, if you would like to read some of that dialogue:

http://www.naacp.org/news/entry/naacp-delegates-vote-to-repudiate-racist-elements-within-the-tea-pary/ will bring you to the NAACP web page that speaks to the resolution. (please copy and paste, or write this address in your browser. I do not know why it is not providing a direct link)

http://www.marktalk.com/blog/?p=10387 will bring you to Mark Wiilliams’ blog, in which he responds to the NAACP and tries to explain his position. He is one of the spokespersons for the Tea Party. To what degree he represents them, I do  not know. I read it as his opinions and statements.

http://www.patheos.com/community/mainlineportal/ will link you to what I think is a solid response to Mark Williams by Philip Clayton, a Professor of Religion and Philosophy at Claremont Graduate University and Ingraham Professor at Claremont School of Theology. He is primarily known for his work in constructive theology and the religion-science debate.  He is the author or editor of over 100 articles and eighteen books, most recently The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Science, Adventures in the Spirit, In Quest of Freedom, and Transforming Christian Theology.

I think you will find these links very interesting. I hope you read them.

As Christian people we cannot and should not accept racism in any form. We need to be clear and public about that. And I am proud to be a pastor in a church that has made breaking down the walls of racism part of its missional identity.

Pastor Bill