Aestas horribilis, those who care about civility in religious discourse and interfaith relations might judge the summer just past to have been.
While I took August off, forces, agencies, and voices of prejudice and, frankly, hate-mongering, did not. “Protest mosques,” “Restore America,” “Burn Qur’ans” and many more are keywords in our internet memory.
One set of these keywords is so illuminating and nearly normative that it merits comment before we enter a new but not necessarily more promising season. I refer to the pronouncements of evangelist Franklin Graham on Muslim genetics, competition for souls, Islam as killer, and scriptures.
Genetics first: There is no need to repeat Graham’s bizarre charge that Islam is passed through the genes of a father to a son. Scholars of Islam find that idea nowhere in its teachings. Conversion-expert Graham should understand that one becomes a Muslim the way the born-again in Graham’s tradition become Christian: by making a profession of faith and a commitment through word and action.
Competition for souls, second: Graham’s work is often positioned along lines crossed in Africa, where Muslims kill Christians and Christians kill Muslims. There is little point in going into “Who fired first?” or “Who killed most?” In religion-based warfare, there is never really a first and a second; there are only debates about first and second. Graham has chosen to attempt conversion in the second most tense area known to the two faith communities. Without doubt, there is ugliness and murder, but we picture militant Muslims speaking of Christians the way Graham speaks of Muslims. Call it a draw. (By the way, “the undersigned” is a Christian who sees a place for evangelism.)
Islam as killer of Christians, third: Graham has repeatedly charged this year that Islam, which he frequently calls “a very wicked and evil religion” is mandated to kill, and that it kills. He does not qualify his remarks, as the word “very” suggests, even though he is often cautioned about the possible lethal consequences for Christians and Muslims if things get more heated. Historians have no difficulty finding Muslims in killing modes. The problem is that historians also find Christians in killing modes, from most years of Christendom, when the sword advanced Christianity, down into our own time. Think of the Christian justifications in World War I. Think Christian killing Christian in Rwanda, Northern Ireland and elsewhere.
Fourth, scriptures: It is easy to find passages in the Qur’an and other classic Muslim texts in which Allah’s people may or should kill to advance God’s cause. Isolating these chunks of the Qur’an which are by now most familiar to Americans calls for overlooking Islam’s many peace-promoting texts. And it also means overlooking parallel biblical texts.
There are far more pictures in the biblical texts of a warrior God licensing and, yes, commanding “omnicide,” the killing of men and women and children who stand in the path of God’s people. Yes, all that was long ago. Now, you will never (at least I never) find Jews or Christians who think that killing people of another faith is a scriptured mandate for them.
Let’s hope and work for a less horrifying autumn.
(c) Martin E. Marty The author is a leading US commentator on religion - and the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago. His biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.
With grateful acknowledgements to Sightings, and the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School, Illinois, USA.