State Rep. John Bennett (R-Sallisaw) held an interim study this past week on the impact of “radical Islam, Shariah Law, the Muslim Brotherhood and the radicalization process” on Oklahoma and the nation. During the course of this “study” — to use that word to describe the event makes it completely devoid of meaning — Rep. Bennett referred to Adam Soltani, the executive director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations chapter of Oklahoma (CAIR-OK), and Imam Imad Enchassi, of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, as “terrorists.” He further attempted to have some in attendance instructed not to hug one another. Apparently, hugging is an act of terrorism commonly committed by Muslims.
As someone who grew up in the Evangelical Christian tradition, and as someone who believes religious freedom remains a fundamental principle of our system of government, I am both offended and saddened at this spectacle. I am offended that a state representative from my state would use the cloak of Christianity to spew hate and bigotry such as this. I am also offended that he would do so while arguing he is defending freedom.
In fact, during one exchange between Bennett and Imam Enchassi, the Imam stated, “It’s a free country,” to which Bennett replied, “I know, I fought for it in two wars.”
But one wonders what, exactly, Bennett fought for. It clearly wasn’t freedom. Neither freedom of religion nor freedom of association seem high on his list of priorities, especially if you happen to be a member of a minority religion. Perhaps he was fighting for Christianity. The problem with that line of reasoning is there rests absolutely no instruction in the New Testament for believers to physically fight for Christ, or for the faith. In fact, if one were to hold strictly to Christ’s own words on this, one could easily reach the conclusion that Christ expects us not to fight for him (read John 18:36). So if Bennett wasn’t fighting for freedom, and he wasn’t fighting for Christianity, what was he fighting for?
I think the answer is pretty obvious. Bennett was, and continues to be, fighting for the right to use his freedom for subjugation of those not in his preferred social group (at a minimum, that group appears to be white protestant Christians). He has no interest in extending freedom of any sort to others. Rather, he seems very interested in doing the very thing he accuses “radical Muslims” of doing: melding religion with the power of the state. Perhaps he should spend more time reading the history of his own faith rather than fretting about the supposed threat from Muslims. He would find that this combining of religion and state power never ends well — for anyone.
I also mentioned I was saddened by this event. That sadness comes from the fact that I know I will receive pushback from members of my own faith community on this matter. I will be told I do not understand the true threat posed by radical Islam. I’ll also be told I’ve been blinded to the truth by my immersion in the liberal world of academia. Too many Evangelicals have been convinced by opportunistic political and religious leaders that any acknowledgement or accommodation of Islam is a threat to Christianity itself.
If allowing others to freely practice their faith, if providing accommodations to those of other faiths (the exact type of accommodations we Christians expect) and if refusing to use the levers of government to intimidate, harass or oppress minority faiths is a threat to Christianity, we Christians have bigger problems than we know.
If Christians want to have real influence on our society — if we want to spread the good news of God’s love — we must reject the type of political religion promoted by Rep. Bennett and his ilk. We must stand with those of other faiths and affirm that, unlike some in the Oklahoma Legislature, we believe all people of faith are entitled to practice their religion freely without fear of official sanction. It’s time to put away the fear of loss that these politicians and religious leaders prey on. If you are concerned that there are some who wish to destroy the Christian faith, follow Christ’s instructions: “Love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you…You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.” (Luke 6:27-36)
Politicians like Bennett, and the religious leaders who support them, have abandoned Christian principles for the sake of political power. This spirit of anti-Christ is doing more damage to Christianity and freedom than radical Islam could ever hope to achieve.
(Editor’s note: The author is co-hosting a forum on religious freedom and diversity from 2-4 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 3, in the Sarkey’s Math & Science Center at Oklahoma City University. Those seeking more information can contact him by email at email@example.com.)