Republican presidential hopeful John McCain has had the endorsement of two pastors, John Hagee and Rod Parsley. He has had to repudiate both endorsements. The repudiation of John Hagee has been a major item in the press this Friday morning. The repudiation of Rod Parsley has been a minor item, although the LA Times gave it second billing with the Hagee repudiation in an article published today. Why?
John Hagee has said things about God, Hitler and Israel that are offensive to Jews. Rod Parsley has said things about God, Islam and Mohammad (peace be upon him) that are offensive to Muslims. Both have said things about Jews and Muslims offensive to many Christians. But the media weighs the news and the one, Hagee, carries great news value and the other, Parsley, carries less.
Had it not been for a Palestinian-American friend I would not have even noticed Parsley's hate filled comments. Mother Jones magazine picked up on Parsley and his particular rant and she sent it to me. Among the quotes was this, "The Muslim prophet Muhammad, he writes, "received revelations from demons and not from the true God." And he emphasizes this point: "Allah was a demon spirit."
The truth is, many Americans believe Jews and Christians worship the same God and believe that Christians and Muslims don't. More, in the land of free speech and loose language, angers and rages abound and where there used to be believers in the great international Jewish conspiracy there are now believers in the universal Muslim conspiracy to conquer the world. Few if any point out that the great Christian conspiracy to make all the world Christian has had, let us say, its less beneficent moments.
Christian hatred for heretics and infidels has marked the history of the church and stained it badly. When pastors rant on that "Allah was a demon spirit," or that the Catholic Church is "the great whore," it doesn't make any difference what the broader context might have been, the sound bite sticks. Hate crimes do not exist in a vacuum, they appear in communities already charged to accept the notion that everyone who is "different" is dangerous and that the big difference is that "we" are chosen people, and "they" are not.
Fortunately there is another story, one that is quiet, doesn't get talked about much and yet holds much promise. It is the story of communities and people of faith trying in the midst of great violence to build a sense of mutual respect among religions and nations. That story is played out in many ways. Here are some little signs in the Episcopal Church of such efforts.
Here in the city of Lewes, the village by the edge of the bay and the big water, St. Peter's has a bookstore / resource center that honors the spiritual traditions of the world's great religious movements while at the same time being a Christian center. Over the summer on Thursday nights there will be gatherings to explore the relation between Christian and other traditions – with separate evenings devoted to Christian-Muslim, Christian- Buddhists, or Christian-Jewish dialogue. Other evenings will explore music and the arts and their relation to the Christian experience. The events will be guided by mutual respect and learning. A small step, but a real one.
Last week the Third Province of the Episcopal Church had its annual Synod. At that meeting Bishop George Packard and several military chaplains gave a series of presentations on ministry to returning vets. All the chaplains have served in Iraq. At the close of the evening session the chaplain leading the meeting announced that we would close with a prayer. He began speaking and I thought he was praying in tongues… he was. He was praying in Arabic.
He translated the Arabic prayer – it was one that could be used with Christians and Muslims both.He and the other chaplains were very moving in their witness to the horrors of war for civilians as well as military personnel. They were very respectful of Iraqis and of their traditions, customs and faith.
Most importantly, for me, it also reminded me of the fact that the "God" word in Arabic is Allah and Christian Arabs use that word as their own. There are, of course, all sorts of commentaries that point out that what we understand of God / Allah character is of course different for Christians, Muslims and Jews. Believing in the Trinity changes the configuration or person or whatever we wish to call it, of the One God. But we end up using the same word.
So the Military Chaplain, with all the baggage that words carry, and with all the baggage of service in Iraq, still prayed in Arabic, using Allah as the word for God. He did not do so as a conqueror might, but rather as someone who had grown to respect where he had been and what he had experienced among a people mostly Muslim.
Several weeks ago there was a Holocaust Remembrance service - Yom Ha-Shoah - held at St. Peter's in Lewes, led by Beth Cohen of Seaside Jewish Community Center and Fr. Jeff Ross, Episcopal Rector of all Lewes, with participation by pastors of a number of congregations in the area. The church was packed, the service very solemn but quite wonderful. Following the service we had refreshments in the Parish House. People in the community who had met in a whole variety of contexts found themselves drawn together in memory of the horror of the Holocaust and the desire to see that such a thing never happen again. From such small beginnings there will be blessings.
St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Georgetown has formed a chapter of The Episcopal Peace Fellowship and they are praying and working at peacemaking in a new way for TEC in this part of the Diocese.
These are little things, small signs. They may not help my Palestinian-American friend who is deeply saddened by Pastor Rod Parsley's remarks and whose children see it as one more case of hatred against them being spread by people who seem to be like me. These are small signs, they may not do much in the short run to reduce antisemitism. They do not have the news power of these wrongheaded Pastors whose endorsements have become an embarrassment. They are not signs that are shouted out in books that make it into partisan booksellers shelves.
But they are signs of speech, action, fellowship, and respect, that hold among people who are working at caring for one another.
Maybe my neighbor, whose relatives were murdered in the Holocaust by Christian hands like mine, and my Palestinian-American friend whose children are frightened and appalled by what is said by Christians who are pastors like me, and I can meet somewhere where those who conspire to breed hatred are finally countered by those who inspire us to share a meal by the side of the river, or in this case the bay, as the sun goes down on the miserable way people treat each other in the name of the Creator.
We can hope.