Rick Perry’s entrance into the race for the Republican presidential nomination has taken an interesting turn in its very first week. The man who organized a large and very public Christian prayer rally for America was also reported (first in Salon.com and then elsewhere) to be on familiar and friendly terms with Texas’ Muslim community. http://www.salon.com/news/politics/war_room/2011/08/10/rick_perry_muslimshttp://blog.chron.com/believeitornot/2011/08/gov-rick-perrys-relationship-with-muslims-may-set-him-apart/
This immediately got a response from the paranoid U.S. Islamophobic community, which piled on demanding that Perry cut his links with the Agha Khan and begin to openly support anti-Shari’a legislation. (http://atlasshrugs2000.typepad.com/atlas_shrugs/2011/08/perryaga-curriculum-shocking-example-of-islamic-propaganda-forced-upon-unsuspecting-students-attendi.html for one of many examples.)
Even a person like myself, who believes Perry has been a poor governor and would make a worse president, might feel a little sympathy for the man. Perry is a self-proclaimed pro-business candidate and the Agha Khan’s Ismaili (a form of Shi’ite) community is made up almost entirely of business people, none of whom wear what appears to be traditional Islamic garb or engages in politics. He is a social conservative and most Muslims are social conservatives. And perhaps most importantly, Muslims with whom I’ve visited believe that being overtly religious is a good thing in a leader, even if they disagreed with Perry’s use of public office to promote Christian prayer.
What Perry needs, of course, is a Christian framework (since he is Christian) within which he can justify taking Muslim political contributions, accepting Muslim support for his candidacy, and building alliances with Muslims (and Jews, and Hindus, and Buddhist, and indeed anybody) to work toward the common good. Right now his populist evangelicalism doesn’t provide that. And thus when he takes Muslim money one day then preaches that he believes they are all going to hell a few weeks later he looks like a hypocrite. Or worse.
My suggestion? Fostering the kind of dialogue in society as a whole that Perry clearly has privately with Muslims would be a start. Help all Texans, and Americans, get to know their neighbors of different religions well enough to be able to work together for the common good. And secondly, get the hell out of politics. No, I don’t mean that Perry should get out of politics. He’s a talented player whether you agree with his policies or not. He should leave his personal understanding of divine judgment or divine intervention out of the political realm. Christians have always recognized that God’s truth is revealed in the natural and social worlds as well as in the Bible. And unlike the Bible (the interpretation of which is divisive even among Christians), nature and society are available for all of us to observe, analyze, and discuss. It is that discussion, open to persons of every religion or no religion, that alone should inform the political business of making public policy. If Perry seems to understand that implicitly based on his actions, he now needs to state it explicitly as candidate for the presidency.