The text from the lectionary for tomorrow in Christian churches is the story of the parable of the prodigal son. The deeper meaning of the story is Jesus’ warning to his ethnic brethren that the cultural purity movement they’d mounted in resistance to the Roman occupation of Palestine had become so exclusionary as to render it ripe for the judgment of God. And so it’s fitting that those of us who show up in church tomorrow, the day after September 11, should have to sit and listen to it. It’s especially fitting considering the rising tide of anti-Muslim bigotry washing over the United States, driven largely by people who declare this a “Christian nation.”
Let me put this as clearly as I can: the folks in New York City who want to build an Islamic center in Lower Manhattan should be welcomed. If there’s construction work to be done, Christians should be out there with their sleeves rolled up and their brows sweating to get it built.
“Got to be someplace else, not over here, because that’s like a slap on the face of the people who lost their families over here,” said another opponent.
Alongside the mosque’s opponents were anti-abortion activists and other demonstrators who were focused on Christian topics.
News flash, bigots. Muslims died when the towers fell. In fact, the 17th floor of the south tower of the World Trade Center contained an Islamic prayer room. Muslims have lived in New York long before 9/11, and they have every right to build whatever center they want to build to deepen their involvement in the community. What does your convenient white-and-Jesus-washing of the dead in the attacks say to your neighbors (oh, be careful how you relate to those folks as Christians…not a lot of fine print in that commandment from your Lord and Savior)? Do you think maybe it could be interpreted as a slap in the face? And just what was Jesus’ command in the Sermon on the Mount about a slap in the face, anyway?
Shame on those of you out there pushing that smug, self-righteous message that Muslims in this country should be culturally sensitive because of September 11 and what happened at Ground Zero. Do you have any idea what it was like for Muslims across this country the day after September 11?
I remember riding on a bus in Lubbock, Texas in September 2001, when some cocky jackass college kid stood up and started showing off for his friends by yelling, “Where the fuck are the Afghans on this bus? I’ll fuck you up!” I’m sure that was the least of the white Christian cultural sensitivity the Muslim community in Lubbock had to endure. Every Muslim had to suddenly declare in public that they condemn an act of horrendous violence, and if they didn’t out of self-respect, watch out for the ugly arguments from silence coming from the culturally sensitive Christian majority. I believe there’s another saying of Jesus about a plank in one’s own eye, or something.
This Islamophobia isn’t limited to the rallies in New York. Here in my own state of Texas, the State Board of Education is actually going to consider a resolution later this month that claims that the textbooks we use in this state are biased toward Muslims and against Christians. Raise your hand if you felt pressured to declare “There is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is his profit” while sitting through World History in Texas. I’d be willing to bet my next margarita that your hands, dear Texans, are down.
But Texas is just the tip of the iceberg. There is a cultural purity movement afoot in this country, and what’s worse, political demagogues, having humiliated themselves by failing to govern for 8 years and getting thrown out of office, are trying to stoke a populist, bigoted backlash to get back into power. Even the dead on September 11 have to all be non-Muslims–reality be damned.
Know this, fellow Christians: claiming that you belong to a “Christian nation” is not a trivial thing. And while you’re sitting there in church tomorrow, listening to the words of Jesus echoing forward through the centuries, you better really listen. You better think twice about trying to exclude the unworthy from your culture. God is running toward the outsider, always and forever. If you are trying to keep the Other out, “your mouth is writing a check your butt can’t cash.” As we say here in Texas.
Love the Lord God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like unto it. You shall love your Muslim New York neighbor as yourself.
From tomorrow’s reading, Luke 15:11-32:
11Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ 20So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate. 25“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”