Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Onward Christian Soldier, Part 2

Onward Christian Soldier, Part 2: The Reverend Franklin Graham Says:
"It's Time to Prey"

On May 6th, there will be a National Day of Prayer, with services held at the Pentagon and other
military facilities in the country. A number of Christian ministers have been invited to take part in the event, including the Reverend Franklin Graham, a prominent evangelist and son of the venerable and much respected Reverend Billy Graham, arguably the single most recognized minister in the Protestant Christian world.

So what's the big deal? Simply this: The younger Reverend Graham has gone on record as stating, after the September 11, 2001 attacks, that Islam is an "evil" religion, and he has apparently not changed this sentiment or retracted those words. At least one watch dog organization has objected to Rev. Franklin Graham's presence in the program and is demanding that he be dis-invited from speaking at the event.

This is not an essay intended to bash conservative Christians, or even to suggest that people who vehemently hate Islam ( and Muslims) don't have a right to the free expression of those ideas. After all, both freedom of religion and speech are individual, and even,sacred rights protected by our Constitution. But for the Pentagon ( or any other government institution) to invite participation from Rev. Graham, or any other person with belligerent and extreme views about a world religion of more than one and a half billion followers, raises serious questions about the sound judgment of officials entrusted with the defense of this nation.

I'll suspend my own judgments about the war system ( and the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) to make another observation: Muslim Americans in uniform are not the only people likely to be greatly offended by this invitation. Jews, Hindus, and other religious minorities in the armed services ( not to mention people with no defined religious creeds) may take exception to a Christian minister who excoriates another religion, while, presumably, his own religious community gets a free, and exclusive, pass to Heaven. Is there truly a "right" religion for the people of the United States? Is the conservative/evangelical interpretation of the Gospel of Jesus (Peace by Upon Him) the only correct way to view Christ? And are we prepared to endorse the idea that it is only Muslims who have ever committed abominable acts in the name of faith?

One wonders if Rev, Graham has ever heard of Auschwitz, or the Inquisition, or the numerous acts of barbarity and genocide committed by individuals and nations that did not profess to be Muslim. Or whether the Biblical commandment to "love thy neighbor" only applies to Christians with neighbors of the same religion.

I believe that prayer is a wonderful spiritual exercise, especially in a world that is so badly in need of peace and compassion. But sadly, that is not the form of supplication that we experience from Rev. Graham and his co-religionists. They, quite bluntly, appeal to the ideas and sentiments of religious bigotry and intolerance that cloak themselves in the mantle of self-righteous exclusivity. And calling Islam an "evil" religion will only appear to legitimize this intolerance in the eyes of many in this nation.

There are many, many, strong and principled leaders in the Body of Christ who would be more appropriate representatives of the Christian faith at this National Day of Prayer. Prayer can, indeed, uplift us all without casting aspersions on any single faith community.

Let's not allow Reverend Franklin Graham to ruin this day for any of us, as we search for the mutual respect and cooperation that should bind Christians, Jews, Muslims, and all religious understandings together.

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