Most of us have now seen or heard that U.S. Representative Peter King (R. New York) is heading the Congressional Committee on Homeland Security and focusing most of his attention on the threat of radical Islam on American soil. While the issue itself deserves time and careful reflection, I simply want to focus on one question; what should be the response of Evangelical Christians to these hearings?
On the one hand, the potential threat of radical Islam on American soil is obvious. The recent incident of the Saudi student arrested in Texas is the latest example. So to say there is no threat is simplistic wishful thinking. On the other hand, highlighting the actions of literally a handful of American Muslims and exposing them for what they are – terrorists – and then encouraging investigations into the broader Islamic community, can also have the unintended consequence of angering the vast majority of patriotic Muslim who are integral parts of the American fabric.
It seems we should seek a third way, one that neither ignores the potential radical element, nor seeks to expose the masses with the “guilty by association” method.
It is a tactic that Jesus of Nazareth often used. Let’s call it “Dining with the down-and-out.” If you have even the slightest biblical literacy, you may recall that Jesus was often accused (by the religious leaders of his own tribe) of spending too much time with outsiders. Their exact indictment against him – eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners. And they were right – he did.
My wife, Chris, and I were out with some friends for dinner recently in downtown Denver. Chris saw a Muslim women walking alone towards us. Almost as if no cue, she ran over to the Muslim lady – dressed in traditional clothing – and began talking to her. She guessed where she was from, turned out to be one country West, and then just chatted with her while the rest of us waited patiently (well, okay, maybe not…but for the sake of this story let’s say “patiently”).
When Chris rejoined us she shared how surprised this lady had been that anyone would have stopped and spoken to her. And why was she surprised? Because for all the years she had lived in Denver, no one else had ever done that.
Let’s think for a moment what happens when you are the minority color and creed in another country and everyone is suspicious of your behavior. First of all, you feel alienated. That makes you withdraw, which makes those around you more suspicious. Which makes you start your own schools, have your own shops and generally not integrate into society. The suspicion of the majority turns into fear. When the minority realizes the rest are afraid of them, they are not sure how to react. They might make poor decisions in how they deal with that issue of lack of trust. The majority culture might also make bad choices in handling this increasingly awkward situation. The spiral becomes difficult to reverse.
That’s where we are now with Muslims in America. It’s a bit awkward at best. So what do we do – we do what Jesus did. It may have been his number one strategy in reaching the “other.” Eat with them. And it goes both ways. So whoever is reading this – the “other” is the person that is not you. Pretty clear. If you’re a Muslim reading this then you need to step out of your comfort zone and take your non-Muslim American neighbor or co-worker out to eat at the Country Buffet. And if you’re the non-Muslim reading this, then you should figure out how to get invited over to the Muslim’s house for dinner, because they cook better than you. (How’s that for a stereotype)! Seriously, the way to do that is to invite them to your house and then the Muslim will say “Thank you we would love to, but how about you come to our house instead?” And you say “Ok.” (Their genetic and religious predisposition to incredible hospitality will probably win the day anyway – by the way, one of many things we can learn from them).
This may sound simplistic or even simple-minded. But never underestimate the damage of allowing a population to feel alone or misunderstood. We can blame them if we want, or we can take some ownership of the issue and reach out beyond our comfort zones and eat together. It’s citizen diplomacy at it’s best.
Maybe Peter King just needs to have a few dinners….