Nine Years after 9/11: Islam, Glenn Beck, and a Nation Divided
Many Christians are on record opposing both this Muslim Family Day and the construction of the Islamic center near the site of the World Trace Center collapse. While I sympathize with anyone who personally suffered loss on 9/11, I also believe we cannot allow fear and anger to reshape us into the image of our foe. Leaving aside for a moment the Christian ethical response, I note that the founding documents of America pronounce that we believe in freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, and freedom of speech; to say we believe in these things only for those who act as we do, worship as we do, and live as we do is to completely negate the radical nature of the freedoms they promise.
We are a nation of immigrants, a nation of multiple faiths, and we are richer, happier, and healthier when we acknowledge that. Some years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr., and a multi-racial, multi-faith group convened on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. to gave us a vision of hope, faith, and reconciliation.
Unfortunately, that's not what happened when Glenn Beck brought his "Reclaiming Honor" show to the nation's capital recently. While there was indeed attention paid to faith and to hope of a kind, reconciliation, I fear, was left wandering orphaned in the cold.
Mr. Beck Goes to Washington
I do not like Glenn Beck. I confess my bias, so that I can try from here on to be even-handed. Although I know that he intentionally works as a combative media personality like Ann Coulter, like Rush Limbaugh, like Keith Olbermann, and thus antagonism and conflict are at the heart of his appeal, in general I am these days looking for uniters, not dividers. I am rooting for people in the public eye who have a bit of humility, who are not absolutely convinced that they are absolutely right and their opponents absolutely wrong. To paraphrase Reinhold Niebuhr, I am looking for those who can be open to the truth in their opponent's error, and the error in their own truth.
Beck believes in individual initiative, and his own personal story convinces him that everyone should be able to make it in America if they work hard enough, save enough, work smart enough. I know that these are conservative creeds, and acknowledge the possibility of truth here, for I too believe in hard work and individual responsibility. I am financially responsible for myself and my two boys, I don't ask the government for hand-outs, and I was raised to think that to ask for help was a sign of weakness.
But despite all the reversals and hard times I have overcome, with God's help, I know that I began better off -- and continue to be better off -- than a huge number of people in our society. My family took education seriously, so I earned four college degrees. I have held the same job for over two decades, so I have health insurance and dental insurance, and a retirement account, sadly depleted as it is just now.
Thus, for me to imagine that my case should be illustrative for people who have lost their jobs in a one-industry town, for people whose homes are being foreclosed, for those without health insurance facing catastrophic illness, for all those Americans who are drowning while I manage to tread water is, at best, unfair.
Beck's attacks on those Christians like Martin Luther King, Jr., (and me) who believe that our faith calls us to work for social justice is a major difference between us. I believe that Christian faith is less about individual salvation than the salvation of the cosmos, inaugurated by Jesus' life, faithful death, and miraculous resurrection. Thus the irony, intended or unintended, of Beck speaking from the same location where Dr. King called for a new attention to justice in American society, one of the most famous markers of that call in American history.
Greg Garrett is (according to BBC Radio) one of America's leading voices on religion and culture. He is the author or co-author of over twenty books of fiction, theology, cultural criticism, and spiritual autobiography. His most recent books are The Prodigal, written with the legendary Brennan Manning, Entertaining Judgment: The Afterlife in Popular Imagination, and My Church Is Not Dying: Episcopalians in the 21st Century. A contributor to Patheos since 2010, Greg also writes for the Huffington Post, Salon.com, OnFaith, The Tablet, Reform, and other web and print publications in the US and UK.