Sikh Ye First

Sikh Ye First August 30, 2012

It was a thoughtful gesture to invite Ishwar Singh, president of the Sikh Society of Central Florida, to deliver an invocation at the Republican National Convention.  The shooting at the temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, was brutal and horrific.  We still don’t know a great deal about the motivations of the shooter, except that he was a white supremacist bigot who apparently hated non-Aryans.  Did he believe the Sikhs were Muslims, as some assumed?  Not necessarily.  My guess would be that he was a powder-keg to begin with, and when he exploded and decided to go out in a blaze of “glory” he simply found the nearest dark-skinned people he could.

That attack struck at the very heart of the concept of America.  We are supposed to be a place where people of all kinds, and all faiths, can come, live in peace, enjoy the fruits of their labor and the blessings of living in this beautiful nation, and worship according to the dictates of our own conscience.  It’s terribly cliched to say so, but when I learned that some maniac had turned a Sikh temple into a slaughterbank, I felt very much that “We are all Sikhs today.”  Sikhism is one of the rare monotheisms to emerge from the East; it bears many things in common with Judaism and Christianity, and I have never found Sikhs to be anything but good and honorable people.

From Odyssey Networks, here is a brief interview with Singh regarding his convocation.  He seems like a delightful gentleman and I would be honored to have him to my church, or to go to his, to learn more about one another:

It’s an important symbol.  But more needs to be done.  Churches can and should be a part of cultivating better mutual understanding between religious communities.  We need to build relational bridges in order to collaborate on projects of common concern and also to communicate on the basic moral and theological matters most important to us.  This strikes near to the heart of why I am at Patheos.  I believe in an open marketplace of religious ideas, I believe in the importance of hosting open communication without fear, and I believe that developing a better understanding between religious communities today is critical to forming a better world tomorrow.

A small step, granted, but I hope that American Sikhs know how horrified we are by what was done to them, and how deeply we hope that they will feel welcome here and at home.

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  • paul

    but wait, a large part of that bible believing crowd also believes that this good honorable sikh who gave the invocation and those who were shot to death, will all be roasting in unfathomable agony, fully conscience for all eternity in a place called hell. how is that less horrible than the guy who pulled the trigger.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      There’s a great variety of beliefs amongst Christians regarding the life to come — as you probably know, ranging from universalism to annihilationism to inclusivism to various forms of exclusivism. We had a pretty thorough conversation about this back when Rob Bell’s book on hell came out. I’ve been intentionally coy about my personal views on this question, but you’re correct of course that many Christians (a generation or two ago, it would have been “most,” but I’m not sure it’s most any longer) believe there is no salvation outside the church. They may think that people can be implicit Christians, or will have an opportunity to repent after death, but at the end of the day there are still many who believe that those who do not trust in God’s provision in Christ will suffer eternal damnation (whatever that may mean). Just as there are many people in other faiths who believe the same of Christians, and many non-religious who believe that we will all simply cease to be.

      More to your point, though, it’s not a horrible thing to *believe* that someone is headed for torment any more than it’s a horrible thing to believe that a severe drug addict is headed for disaster. It’s a horrible thing to *wish* that.

      Personally, I trust this issue into the hands of a God who has shown himself extravagantly loving and gracious and just. I have no idea what awaits Singh, and I’m not terribly confident of what awaits me either. It doesn’t change the fact that I have great respect for the man, and wish him the best in this life and the next.

  • Steve Teague

    Great invitation and integration of our brothers and sisters of the Sikh faith. We are one humanity, one people together.