- Dean Obeidallah: Christianity in America is being hijacked by the far right
- Some Christian groups, leaders have said hateful things about gays, Muslims, he says
- Obeidallah says silence is not the right response to extremist voices and intolerant views
- Obeidallah: If the hateful rhetoric isn't stopped, radical Christians will define Christianity
Christianity in America is being hijacked. The faith known for Jesus Christ's teaching of "love thy neighbor as yourself" is in danger of being redefined by the far right as: "Hate the gays, Mormons and Muslims."
Just this past weekend, Christian missionaries -- including members of the organization Bible Believers -- traveled to one of the biggest Arab-American festivals in the country to taunt Muslims. These so-called Christians held up a pig's head while spewing hateful words about Islam. In the past, they have also attacked Catholicism as a "false doctrine."
If they were the only Christians spewing hate, they could simply be ignored. But they are not. Alarmingly, some well-known Christian leaders and pastors have articulated thoughts that range from intolerant to truly hateful.
One of the worst offenders is Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association, a Christian organization whose astounding level of anti-gay rhetoric resulted in it being designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Fischer recently said on his radio show, "It is altogether right to discriminate against homosexual behavior" because it should not be acceptable to "any rational society." He has called for gays to be disqualified from public office and went so far as to claim that Hitler used gay storm troopers because straight solders would never engage in the brutality of the Nazis.
Toward Muslims, Fischer has called for them to be banned from the U.S. military and proposed that they be required to convert to Christianity before they can become U.S. citizens.
Toward Mormons, Fischer said they are not Christians -- a sentiment echoed by other evangelical leaders such as the Rev. Rick Jeffers, who has called Mormonism "a cult" and "a false religion." Fischer went on to say that Mormons are not entitled to freedom of religion under the First Amendment because that is only for Christians.
Fischer's comments are even more disturbing when you consider that the American Family Association is not some insignificant Christian organization. It boasts more than 2 million supporters. Frequently, well-known Republicans appear on Fischer's show, including Newt Gingrich, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, whom Mitt Romney is considering as a running mate.
Fischer can be matched by Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network, who have said that homosexuality is "related to demonic possession" and that non-Christians are "a virus." When asked by a viewer of his TV show if it was OK for a friend to display a Buddhist statue, Robertson's response was: "No, it's not. ... Break it ... destroy it!"
Then there are Christian leaders such as Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, who has labeled gay activists as "intolerant, hateful, vile, spiteful" pawns of the devil who have an agenda that will destroy our society.
Yet Perkins' spite seems civil when compared to those of a pastor in Kansas who said a few weeks ago that the U.S. government should put gays to death because "it tends to limit people coming out of the closet." Shockingly (not), another Christian pastor in North Carolina has voiced the same view.
The longer that mainstream Christian leaders don't even bother to counter the rhetoric from the far right, the more likely that radical Christians will come to define Christianity.
As an American Muslim, I can tell you from firsthand experience that silence is not the right response to extremist voices. Letting radicals air their views can have a serious effect on how people view your faith. And just so it's clear, I'm in no way saying that we don't have our share of extremists; some of ours are far worse, and our community must continue publicly to reject their false representation of Islam.
Many Christian leaders will undoubtedly ask themselves the same thing we, Muslims, did: Why should we have to denounce these people who are so radical that we don't even think of them as sharing our faith? Why can't our good work just speak for itself? Not all Christians are like this.
Here is the reason: A recent poll of American college-aged voters found that 65% of them view Christianity as "anti-gay." This is startling. If the loud voices of intolerance from far right Christian leaders go unchecked, will most young Americans begin to think that Christianity is "anti-Muslim," "anti-Mormon," "anti-Catholic" and so on?
The stakes are clear for mainstream Christian leaders -- as well as other faiths where radicalism is going overboard. Isn't it time to stand up to those who give your religion a bad name?