13Now after the wise ones had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15and remained there until the death of Herod.
Jesus was a refugee, Matthew tells us, and his parents went to Egypt for safety. Herod didn’t want either the reality or the rumor of a new born king. No messiah’s here, thank you very much. According to Matthew he was willing to murder all of children in and around Bethlehem to destroy hope.
Matthew places political violence, what we call terrorism, at the beginning of the story of Jesus. It is not an aside. Nor is Matthew reporting “just the facts.” The whole occupation of the Romans in first century Palestine was enforced by terrorism. Matthew uses less than 70 words to describe the slaughter of the innocents, an efficiency born of desperate pain and the fact that such slaughter was no surprise to Matthew’s first century listeners.
The ELCA defines terrorism this way:
Violence or the threat of violence directed toward civilians to create a climate of fear and uncertainty.
- State actors use terror to maintain their grip on power.
- Non-state actors use terror to disrupt a political, social, or economic order.
Living in a Time of Terrorism, ELCA Social Statement
State sponsored terrorism also marked the end of Jesus life. Crucifixion was a key element in the terrorism of the state. Revolutionaries of one sort or another were rounded up, labeled thieves, stripped and left to die a torturous public death. After death, their bodies and the grief of their families served as crystal clear warnings to others who sought change. For Christians, his resurrection emptied state sponsored terror of its power and freed his disciples for public witness to a power greater than fear.
This may not be a welcome reflection during the season of Christmas. Yet the savior (the healer) of the world Christians see in Jesus came to heal his community from the debilitating power of state sponsored terror, and revenge’s siren call to take up the sword and die by it.
Today we see public leaders setting the table for another kind of terror campaign. This time it is campaign against our American Muslim sisters and brothers.
It is estimated that between ten to twenty million dollars per year are donated to what is called the Islamophobia network. You can find out more about this network here: https://www.splcenter.org/20161025/journalists-manual-field-guide-anti-muslim-extremists
Bridgette Gabriel is the founder of one of the Islamophobia network called ACT for America. She has said that a “practicing Muslim, who believes in the teachings of the Quran, cannot be a loyal citizen to the United States of America.” This group has 280,000 members across the country. There are five chapters in of ACT for America in western Washington. (Here is a link to the one in Pierce County: http://www.piercecountyact.org)
Gabriel’s group, ACT for America, sent out a fundraising letter post-election. *Here is one part of that letter:
“But now is not the time for complacency, it is a time to capitalize, and go for the jugular!”
This letter mentioned the members of her organization who are now in influential posts in the incoming administration.
One of ACT for America’s board members is now President Elect Donald J. Trump’s National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn.
In interview after interview which you can see on YouTube, Flynn makes the case for a careful and clear description of “the problem” of political violence by Islamicists. Yet he fails to be clear. First he says that Islam is a cancer, a political ideology masquerading as a religion. When pressed he says that Islam has a cancer, with a political ideology masquerading as a part of Islam. This could be just a slip of the tongue, but he says both in many interviews. Whatever his intent the effect of his words will be to stir fear toward all Muslims – and Yoda has taught us what fear leads to.
Monica Crowley has been appointed by Donald Trump as the senior director of the National Security Council may not be related to ACT for America, but has a very similar point of view.
Monica Crowley said this after the terrorist attacks in Brussels:
Islam is no mere religion. It is an all-encompassing ideological system that dictates everything from law (Shariah) to personal relationships which also have religious elements. Conquest and subjugation of the infidel lands are integral to this totalitarian ideology, by the sword, if necessary. It therefore requires that we fight this war the way we fought the Nazis in World War II and Soviet communists during the Cold War: comprehensively and strategically, with every available military, economic, ideological, diplomatic, cyber- and religious lever. We must stop this threat before it metastasizes further and fully consumes Western Civilization.
This is not from some talk radio conspiracy theorist. This statement is from a person who is now the senior director of the United States’ National Security Council.
This kind of language dehumanizes Muslims, makes them a mortal enemy, and blesses any action toward them as an act of survival. It denies all differences among Muslims and says they are all the same. It’s “us” or “them” and because we love our children it’s going to be them.
I am sure that Herod used the same kind of language to describe the need for the killing of the infants in and around Bethlehem.
Many said that Trump would move to the middle if he was elected. But these and other cabinet pics tell us a different story. The narrative and worldview of the people he is putting on his cabinet is dangerous to Muslims, to people of all faith traditions, and dangerous for America, our tradition of civil rights and for peace on earth.
In my last podcast I said that it was possible to move to love our Muslim neighbors even if we are not in “full Bonhoeffer alert mode.”
Well, I think we are now.
The way forward for us is to work to build neighborly relationships,
to encourage and celebrate relationships between Muslims and Christians as:
- Individuals and households
- Faith leaders
- Faith communities
- Eating together
- Playing together
- Telling stories together
- Building stronger communities together
- Engaging in public issues in promotion of a peaceful world.
It is time to prepare to stand in public with our Muslim sisters and brothers. In Jesus, Christians see a God who is willing to join vulnerable human beings and to respond with courage in the face of overpowering fear. For Christians, his resurrection is a sign that God has our backs when we risk joining God’s love for vulnerable, beloved human beings.
May God grant us the courage to be neighbors in a time of fear.
This month I interviewed Ihab, Maryam (eight grade), Kassie and Liz after a meeting of All for Peace at Trinity Lutheran in Lynnwood and then a later interview with Liz Gimmestad who has worked for 16 years on the relationship between Trinity and an Islamic center in Lynnwood.