Jesus’ Great Commission to Our Islamic Siblings

Hate crimes in the US that specifically target Muslims have increased 67% since the presidential election.  The hateful rhetoric employed by certain candidates has galvanized people and has created a fear for those outside the WASP community.  There is a moral obligation to address that rhetoric and those actions taken up because of that rhetoric.

As Christians, we are called to follow the teachings of Jesus, even when it is hard or dangerous.  When it comes to our Islamic siblings, we seem to have forgotten a lesson or two.  

The Gospel of Matthew ends with Jesus’ “Great Commission” of the disciples to go out into the world and teach.  In that Gospel, it is the first time anyone but Jesus is given teaching authority.  Up until then, they had only been learning.  I wonder if we have learned his lessons well enough to enact them in our lives now.  We certainly have forgotten the story of the Good Samaritan.   Jesus teaches that a man is robbed and left for dead on the roadside.  He is passed over and over again by fellow members of his faith, indeed leaders in that faith.  Instead, an outsider, an “other”, someone of a differing faith and ethnicity, rescues this man and goes above and beyond even putting the man up until he has healed.  Perhaps the Samaritan was teaching us who he truly is and what his faith means.  

In my hometown of Kansas City, there is a group called the Crescent Peace Society who is speaking out about the truth of the Islamic faith as one of Peace.  Kareen Talib, a founding member realized that the over 30,000 Muslims in Kansas City had a calling to teach about their faith:  “We realized that we had not done our part…We came to this country and we started working very hard. We were living our lives, and we were taking care of our kids. We didn’t have time to think about it.  Then we realized that one element was forgotten, and that was educating others about who we are.”   

My seminary education, my church life, indeed even bartending has taught me that we have a call to listen to those who are being accused even oppressed because of their faith, skin, sexuality, etc.  Why?  

Because as a Christian, I know that Jesus was a man who spoke up for those accused of being outside the norm.  He was a threat to the Roman empire’s standard not because of his violence but because he called out against the oppression of people.  He was deemed “enemy combatant” and was executed because he defended the rights of a religious group.  Our Muslim siblings are being painted as “enemy combatants” when those who truly practice their faith are peaceful.  It is up to us to learn the difference rather than paint with broad brush strokes of hatred based in fear.  

Our Great Commission is to learn and to teach.  It’s time we relearn some forgotten lessons. 

Even Jesus Had Implicit Bias

Reading the Gospels with liberation eyes is hard but necessary and, it has helped to open the eyes of this seminary student to the bias all around me.

For example, even Jesus had implicit bias and prejudice.  The Gospel of Mark shows Jesus encountering a Syrophoenician woman begging him to heal her daughter.  He dismissed her, calling her a dog, a racial epithet Jews used in reference to Gentiles.

My seminary education has challenged me to face some personally difficult issues. Among these was to realize that as a middle class white, gay male, I still have privilege that some “others” –other races, gender(s), classes, etc— do not share. Sure, I have experienced homophobia, even experiencing some violence. But, I don’t like to compare that to the experiences from differing “others” because, if I wanted, I could hide my orientation in casual encounters with people. I also struggle with the fact that I have an implicit bias favoring those who like me are white.

These realizations triggered me. I was furious, overwhelmed, devastated, sickened. At first with my “accusers” and then with myself.

“I am gay. I am one of the oppressed. I don’t participate in the oppression of others because I know what that feels like.” WRONG! I learned that my reaction is a normal part of “white fragility.”

We do not live in a world of easy categories or simple answers. It is possible to be one of the oppressed and still hold prejudices.

In fact, implicit bias is so deeply ingrained in some it affects their dating and sex life. Now, I am not saying having a “type” is necessarily racist but, how we express our dating preferences can be. Some online dating profiles express preference in ways reminiscent of the 1960’s deep south: “Whites Only: No Blacks.” Some go as far as comparing certain ethnic groups to food: “No rice, spice, or curry” meaning no Asian, Latinx, or Middle Eastern peoples.

The queer community is just of guilty of racist behavior as our straight counterparts. So much so that someone constructed Wikipedia page listing some of our apparent transgressions.

Bloggers have called us to task:

  • Mike Alvear holds that “Racism is just more repugnant when we [gay men] express it because we should know better.” 
  • Fellow public theologian Irene Moore critiqued an article claiming that “the big mistake was thinking that the LGBTQ community could have a civil conversation on race.” 

What is worse is that the dividing us along these lines of race and sexuality ignore the challenges who fall into more than one oppressed category. Not to mention, movements fighting oppression have had history lifting working together. 

Yet, there is hope. Moore points out “We cannot be blamed for misinformation that we have been taught and have absorbed from our U.S. society and culture, but we will be held responsible for repeating misinformation after we have learned otherwise.”

We only have to consult the #BlackLivesMatter website to get good information.  This is like the tenacity of the Syrophoenician woman  with Jesus that made him realize his own human bias privileging his own race and culture over others. It is only after this encounter that Jesus expands his ministry to include those outside of the Jewish faith. Christianity owes this woman for showing Jesus a broader look.  White Americans like me owe a debt of gratitude to #BlackLivesMatter movement and to all other African Americans who have told the truth about their lives for so long.  

We the Children of God, the children whose God’s encompassing promises include the rainbow of colors can be both biased and overcome them in living up to Jesus’ example.

If you would like to test your own implicit bias or would like to read more on the issue I recommend this article from NPR.