The Pastor is Out (of it)

So lets review the recent news. A man with neo-Nazi sympathies goes to a Sikh Gurdwara and kills six people. He may have thought they were Muslims, or he may not have cared. Hatred is a blunt instrument.

Recent reports shows 88 attacks on US mosques since 2010, with burnings and vandalism increasing across the U.S. Since I began this blog three days ago there have been three more attacks on mosques.

A student reports to me from a city in Texas that in weeks of visiting civic and church groups hatred against Muslims was expressed again and again. And I can affirm that its a common experience if you visit Christian and civic groups in Dallas.

So I did a little Google search to see if I could find what Dallas Area pastors might be saying about violence against non-Christian religious groups. “Christian Sikh Dallas” turned up a Dallas Morning News blog and an article about how the Richardson police chief started an inter-religious outreach. Nothing else. How about “Christian Muslim Dallas?” Same thing and (more positively) an event by Bob Robert’s church in Keller a year ago. But I know from his Twitter feed that this pastor is fully engaged with religious diversity. The same is true of Northway Christian Church. And there were pastors who attended the vigil at the Richardson Sikh Gurdwara last week. A few.

How about specific Dallas mega churches? Well I checked a bunch (I’ve deleted the names from this post) both by church name and pastor’s name. I couldn’t check every church in Dallas, there are thousands. In any case the dozen biggest I know of seemed to have let the attack on the Sikhs pass without public comment. On Sunday in my own church there was a general reference in prayer to “victims of violence.” I expect that is pretty typical.

It appears that violence and mass murder of members of religious minorities in the United States elicits a massive yawn from Dallas Christian leaders. If you know differently I’d love to hear. Surely there are a few Christian pastors unwilling to be complicit in a culture of hatred.

In the meantime I think two things should be clear. First it is grossly irresponsible in our current social setting for Christian leaders to take no active involvement in overcoming religious bigotry. Our Christian congregations may not have any shooters, but anyone who has been in them knows that they have plenty of haters. Secondly a Christian church that is not engaging non-Christians with the gospel, in whatever way is appropriate to that church’s sense of mission, is a failure. The purpose of the church is to engage the whole world with the gospel. Leaving out whole communities just because they belong to a different religion is simply a failure of obedience to Christ.

How long will a Christian presence in our society last if it fails to engage the equal realities of religious pluralism and religious bigotry and hatred? Not long. Not because of an unstoppable secular impulse, changing demographics, or marketing failures, although these are the things that obsess the imagination of Christian leaders. Rather, Christian communities cannot expect to survive because we cannot expect Christ to be faithful to Christian leaders and Christian churches that are unwilling to undertake the fundamental Christian task of engaging the peoples of the world with the Gospel. That means opening our mouths to speak out against bigotry and hatred directed to non-Christians, not to yawn and go back to business as usual.

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  • John R Huff II

    Well stated. Very important for the progress in interreligious dialogue.

  • John Welch

    Anyone who ignores the hatred of and violence against Muslims, or people who look like Muslims, is no christian. I’m a Methodist, and we reach out to everyone, but I’m not a good enough Methodist (“Are ye able said the Master / to be crucified with me”) to extend communion to bigots and killers and those who sigh and look away from bigotted killings.

  • Curtis Matthys

    Dr. Hunt, thank you for these important words. The response in my church was not much different from what you described. We did mention the Sikh Gurdwara and the six people killed there in prayer, but offered no real appropriate teaching on religious bigotry.

    I agree with your statement, “First it is grossly irresponsible in our current social setting for Christian leaders to take no active involvement in overcoming religious bigotry.” I have maintained an ongoing dialogue with the Imam at our local mosque for about four years. I was appointed to my current church in June of 2011 and have invited members to join in this conversation. To date, I have had no takers. They seem to think it is great for me, but don’t find the time for themselves to make the effort. I’ll keep my dialogue and my prayers going and maybe someday…

    I can’t help but say to John W., If we believe that Christ is mysteriously present, and that communion is a means of grace, then I cannot think of a better place for bigots and killers and those who sigh and look away from bigotted killings to be.

    Thanks again Dr. Hunt, for your continued good work.