Saturday, March 1, 2008
Senator Obama has been very careful to make sure people don’t think he’s a Muslim. Heaven forbid. I’m not a Muslim, by the way, and neither is he. But so what if he was? True, some of our country’s current enemies are followers of the Islamic faith – however distorted and ill-applied their understanding of its tenets.
The United States has had many enemies over the years, adversaries who have cost us far more than the terrorists of today have so far, and none of them were Muslims. In all likelihood, there will be others in the near and distant future who will use violence to challenge our way of life, but who will be of different religions. Are we not to the point where we understand that it is wrong, unfair, and fundamentally un-American to generalize the acts of these relatively few to the far greater numbers of people who may, incidentally, share their nationalities or religious beliefs? I certainly hope so, and find it particularly immature of Senator Obama, who would be President and in charge of our foreign policy, to behave differently.
Maybe it’s just political. (That’s not an excuse, just an observation.) Maybe he’s concerned that many voters will think his being an American Muslim might affect his judgment, and imperil our country under his leadership. (Can there never be a Jewish President for fear he or she will be bias in her handling of problems in the Middle East?) Then he should say so in as many words. He should demonstrate the leadership he is forever promising by telling us, in no uncertain terms from the pulpit at one of his famous rallies, that while many terrorists are Muslim, their religion is irrelevant. The problem, he should explain, is their personal beliefs –political and economic, as well as spiritual – which allow them to condone violence as an acceptable and perhaps even preferable tool for accomplishing their objectives.
Senator Obama is Christian, a member of the Trinity United Church of Christ for 20 years. It is a church with a reputation for its ministry endorsing anti-Semitic beliefs, including those of Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan. According to a CBS News report, Senator Obama has characterized the prejudicial rants of former TUCC Pastor Jeremiah Wright as those of “an old uncle who sometimes will say things that I don’t agree with.” (References to Senator Obama’s relationship to the Trinity United Church of Christ and Pastor Wright are from the CBS News report, “For the Record: Barack Obama,” February 28, 2008, currently running on www.CBSNews.com.)
The thing is, Senator, he is not your uncle. He was your Pastor, and spiritual mentor. If you honestly found his preaching and advice to be unacceptable, you could have acted over the past 20 years to have him replaced, or affiliate you and your family with another church. How would you feel if you were running against Mayor Michael Bloomberg or some other Jewish candidate who was a member of a Temple where the Rabbi professed prejudice against African Americans? I’m pretty sure you’d be out there insisting that he resign his membership, and chiding him for having put up with it for the past 20 years, calling into question his qualifications to be President.
So, Senator Obama, let me get this straight – because this is the message I’m getting. There’s something wrong with being a Muslim, and you can tolerate some anti-Semitism as long as the ones professing it are people you like. And you want to be President of the United States? Well, let me give you some advice in the form of a quote from another US President:
“We the General Assembly of Virginia do enact that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”
That was written by Thomas Jefferson, Section II from a draft “Bill to Establish Religious Freedom in Virginia,” 1779. The italics are mine. Jefferson, in Section III to this same bill, further asserted that freedom of religion was one “of the natural rights of mankind.”
It’s not just about the right to worship, is it? It’s also about not being penalized for holding any particular religious belief, about appreciating the fact that people of different religious beliefs can share the same core principles of our democracy, and can be equally effective in the management of its government. This may not be something every American accepts today. If not, that’s a change you can help accomplish. Before that, you’ve got to believe it yourself.