Last week, many Americans celebrated Holy Week and Passover. Both of these traditions remind us that we must continue to stand for religious freedom for all. I agree with Britain’s Anglican Bishop of Rochester, the Rt. Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali. He says that we Christians should treat our Muslim neighbors with love and with respect. We believe, even if they do not, that we are all created in the image and likeness of God. We believe that they share with us the civil rights that are enjoyed by all Americans. But we also believe, with George Washington, that each one here should be able “to sit under his own vine and fig tree and there should be none to make him afraid.”
Threats of violence should be met with the firmest measures of effective control. When Muslims threaten the murder of anyone who offends them — as they did with Christian convert Abdul Rahman in Afghanistan several years ago –we have a right to denounce such barbarism. We should stand up, and never cringe. That is a lesson from Dr. Martin Luther King I hope we all have learned.
But not everyone here agrees with an unapologetic stance for religious freedom. With the authority of one who really knows, Chris Seiple, President of the Institute for Global Engagement, took to the pages of The Christian Science Monitor last month to lecture us on the new “no-nos” of communicating with Muslims.
Speaking as one who has been to the Middle East many times, Seiple gives advice to President Obama on the words he should not use.
Don’t use jihadi, Seiple says, to describe terrorists that we are fighting. This only confirms their status as religious warriors. Seiple says they don’t merit that classification.
Don’t use freedom, either, he says. That’s because what Americans mean by freedom is often confused by Muslims as “an unbound licentiousness.” Watch out for “religious freedom,” too. Seiple thinks this term has been tainted by a too-close association with past U.S. foreign policy and the idea that we were making war to make the world safe for Protestant Evangelicals to “proselytize and convert.”
Even though he concedes that this is not an accurate portrayal of what religious freedom actually means, Seiple thinks it would be better to avoid the term entirely and speak in terms of “peace, justice, honor, mercy, and compassion.” “Tolerance” rounds out Seiple’s long list of unmentionables. Seiple concludes by saying that tolerance is not enough because it fails to build bridges of trust – “according to the inherent dignity we each have as fellow creations of God…”