I wrote this piece which first appeared in the December 18, 2015, issue of the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, my local newspaper. While it addresses the demographics of this place, its relevance extends to all those who live in religiously homogenous places.
If you agree with Donald Trump’s proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the United States, chances are good that you don’t actually know any Muslims.
If you live in Morgan County, the odds are fairly high that you don’t know many or any Muslims.
Of course, there are Muslims in our community. What there are not is any places of worship that are not Christian. This reveals a substantial religious homogeneity. Sure, there are a lot of different kinds of Christian places of worship: Catholic, Presbyterian, Jehovah’s Witness, Mormon, Lutherans (ELCA and LCMS), Baptists (American, Southern, Independent) and so on. This is often what religious diversity means for life in Jacksonville.
A report from the Pew Research Center published in 2014 says that only 38 percent of Americans know someone who is Muslim. They also point out why this matters: “Knowing someone from a religious group is linked with having relatively more positive views of that group.”
Social scientists call this the contact hypothesis.
We know that having meaningful interaction with someone of a different faith than yours is important. It makes the likelihood of your cooperation on a community project more likely, for example. It also makes you more likely to defend them when they and their religion are under attack.
Such is the case with Muslims in our community and in our country today. Maryam Mostoufi asks in the Dec. 11 State Journal-Register “Do You Know Who Springfield’s Muslims Are?” Before listing the various roles that Muslims play in the social and economic life of Springfield, she says:
“From listening to various pundits, it seems the majority of Americans have no idea who their 6 million Muslim neighbors are. I am sure that is equally true here.”
There are many problems with Donald Trump’s call to ban Muslims from entering the United States. One of the most obvious is that he is relying on the assumption that “Muslim” and “American” are separate things. This ignores the fact of your American Muslim neighbors, doctors, teachers and business owners. It assumes a stereotypical and racialized “otherness” of anyone who is Muslim. It also presumes that Muslims all come from somewhere else, and that building a wall can keep “them” out.These are false assumptions that create an environment wherein hateful speech and violence are more likely and permissible.
Many Christian denominations have spoken up in support of our Muslim neighbors. The presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, issued a statement Dec. 11 that says in part:
“In our love for you, our Muslim neighbors, we are distressed by the ways in which you are being forced to bear the fears held by many in our nation. Therefore, we renew our commitment to find even more effective ways to protect and defend you from words and actions that assault your safety and well-being. We believe God calls us to resist what is divisive, discriminatory, xenophobic, racist or violent, and we want you to look to us as allies and friends.”
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s ethics and religious liberty commission, says in a Dec. 7 essay that Trump is using “reckless demagogic rhetoric.” He also says:
“As part of the church’s mission, we believe we should seek to persuade our Muslim neighbors of the goodness and truth of the gospel. It is not in spite of our gospel conviction, but precisely because of it, that we should stand for religious liberty for everyone.”
And on Dec. 13, an Interfaith Peace Vigil was held at the Islamic Society of Greater Springfield, in part “to show solidarity for Muslims everywhere who have become the subject of hostile rhetoric and attacks.”
The fact that Jacksonville and Morgan County are overwhelmingly Christian is no excuse for not standing up for the value of Muslim lives in our community. These are only a few examples of religious leaders standing within their own faith traditions while standing alongside those of different beliefs.
Because now more than ever, we are called to say out loud and in print and with our vote that Muslim Lives Matter.
In Jacksonville, in Morgan County, and in the United States of America.