Saturday, August 21, 2010
American Christianity, Islam, and the Public Square
Franklin Graham recently made controversial statements concerning Islam that are the focus of much discussion on the Internet and in the media. The controversy arises in large measure because of the inaccuracies in Graham's portrayal of the religion. In the video clip above you can hear Stephen Prothero's response to Graham's characterization of Islam. (See my previous interview with Prothero on religious illiteracy here.)
In a related story, the media is now reporting on the Dove World Outreach Center in Florida that is planning to burn as many copies of the Qu'ran as it can find on September 11, which the church has dubbed "International Burn a Koran Day," even though the city has denied them the appropriate permit for a fire. A review of the church's website reveals a penchant for inflammatory confrontation with Islam through the phrase "Islam is of the Devil," which can be found in Pastor Terry Jones' book title, a sign in front of the church, and t-shirts with the slogan that the church is making available to others who want to support their efforts.
These episodes demonstrate at least two things. First, we need more reflexivity in the failures of those in our own religious community historically who have not lived up to the teachings of Jesus. For a sobering reminder of some of our shortcomings see Gary Laderman's recent opinion piece in Religion Dispatches, "Dangerous Religion."
Second, Evangelicals still have a long way to go in their understanding and portrayal of other religions, particularly Islam. The events of 9/11 had a traumatic effect on the national conscience, and that these events were connected to Islam makes it easy to understand how sensitivities could be heightened in regards to Islamic religion, but the misunderstanding, misrepresentation, and grotesque confrontation with Islam through the burning of its scriptures merely exacerbates negative perceptions of Christianity in the United States (not to mention the Muslim world), and further deepens our problems in the public square.