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William Fisher: Where Are the Christians?

Where Are the Christians?

By William Fisher
t r u t h o u t | Columnist

Wednesday 27 December 2006

It's not rocket science to understand why Republicans have gone into hibernation on the issue of Rep. Virgil Goode's outrageous rant against his fellow Congressman, Keith Ellison - the first Muslim ever elected to either legislative house - who wants to take his oath on the Quran.

After all, Goode is one of their own. He's from the same party that brought us George Allen's "Macaca Moment" and the flirtatious "Call Me" tagline from a cute white blonde in a campaign commercial in the recent senate race against black Rep. Harold Ford.

To refresh your memory, Goode is the congressman who wrote his constituents: "If American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration, there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Quran in his personal private ceremony."

Immigration? What has a single Muslim congressman got to do with immigration? Easy. If you've learned anything from Messrs. Bush and Cheney over the past six years, it's that conflating wildly unrelated issues can get people so spooked that it works. The president and the veep did it with Iraq and 9/11. Goode does it with an unofficial swearing-in and dark visions of illegals pouring across our borders. If we don't stop Rep. Ellison from taking his oath on a Quran, the numbers of illegal Muslim immigrants will become a tsunami.

Never mind that the real swearing-in is administered to new members of Congress en masse and without any holy book at all. The ceremony at which Ellison wants to use the Quran is a private, unofficial event for friends and family, a kind of memory-book photo-op. Also never mind that Muslim immigration into the US is miniscule and overwhelmingly legal. Unlike the 9/11 hijackers who were in the US legally on valid visas, most Muslim immigrants become citizens and many have been here for generations and more.

An extensive search suggests that only two Republicans have uttered a single word against this no-nothing attack. One of them is Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, who delivered a robust smackdown of this bigot on one of the Sunday morning talk shows. Graham asked why the newly-elected Minnesota lawmaker shouldn't be allowed to take his oath on a book he believes in.

The other is Sen. John Warner of Virginia, who offered the half-hearted comment that he respects the right of all members of Congress to freely "exercise the religion of their choice, including those of the Islamic faith utilizing the Quran."

California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter, presidential wannabee, Guantanamo booster, and outgoing chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, dodged the Goode question put to him by CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

Good for Senator Graham. He did the right thing.

But the more important question - particularly at this season of the year - is, Where are all the Christians? Unless I've completely misunderstood the Scriptures, Christ believed in helping "the least of these," for love, compassion, and tolerance.

But the silent Christians seem to have forgotten to ask, "What Would Christ Do?"

One wouldn't expect the likes of Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, or Pat Robertson to be caught dead defending a Muslim's right to be a Muslim. They've already made the denigration of this religion a cottage industry for the far right in Christendom.

So have senior military officers like Gen. Jerry Boykin, who has inveighed in uniform that his God is better than their God.

But there are tens of millions of other Christians out there. They ought to know that love of all God's creatures is at the core of their religion. They ought also to know that an attack against one religion is an attack against all religions. Next week, it could be Jews. Next month, it could be Christian fundamentalists or evangelicals.

You might not be aware of it, but there is a robust community of progressive Christians in America, struggling to get its voice heard. That's a tough task when you don't have the deep pockets and the cynical White House connections to effectively drown out dissent. Or change the subject. It's a lot easier for this wedge constituency to get people worried that if same-sex unions become legal, they'll all be forced to marry a gay or a lesbian, than it is to speak out for the homeless, the poor, those who have no health care, and for religious tolerance to find common ground.

Lately, however, we, the people, have been doing a bit better. As of Nov. 7, voters have sent their message to the Congress, to the White House, and to the religious far-right. America has grown weary of their divide-and-conquer strategies.

Republicans may find some hope in this message. Now, they might not be quite so terrified of losing their campaign contributions and maybe their seats by taking principled stands against the never-mind-what-Christ-would-do wing of their party.

Mainstream Christians can play a big role here. Expressing their outrage at Virgil Goode's mindless xenophobia and their support for Keith Ellison would be a good first step.


William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and in many other parts of the world for the US State Department and USAID for the past thirty years. He began his work life as a journalist for newspapers and for the Associated Press in Florida. Go to The World According to Bill Fisher for more.

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