Demonization of American Muslims is under way among conservative American Christians who think wrongly that President Obama is showing his true colors as a Muslim and Muslims shouldn't be in the military.
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama take part in a memorial service on Nov. 10 on Fort Hood, Texas. (Photo: Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley)
But this is not the first time that anxiety within right-wing Christianity has objected to government service based on faith. Stopping the phobia from spreading from the fringes of faith into the mainstream demands that faith leaders speak up now.
We warned last Friday: "Some Christian Right leaders, politicians and pundits will rhetorically inflame public opinion, demonizing Muslims and distorting the teachings of Islam."
Arguing that Americans faced two choices related to the Fort Hood shootings, we expressed hope that authentic Christians and civil citizens would avoid the rush to judgment and resist the temptation to speak hatefully about American Muslims.
As we were framing our moral argument, Bryan Fischer, director of issue analysis for the American Family Association, was framing his Muslim-bashing piece and doing what we thought would happen.
He charged that Muslims should be blocked from serving in the U.S. military.
"It is time…to stop the practice of allowing Muslims to serve in the U.S. military," said Fischer, who works for one of the older Christian Right organizations. "The reason is simple: the more devout a Muslim is, the more of a threat he is to national security. Devout Muslims, who accept the teachings of the Prophet as divinely inspired, believe it is their duty to kill infidels."
Fischer asserted that "the more devout a Muslim is, the more likely he is to lie to you through his teeth, since lying to the infidel to advance the cause of Islam is commended, not just permitted, in the Koran."
Fort Hood was "living proof" about Muslims, said Fischer, who claimed his view was not phobic but realistic.
When moderate American Muslims give "us a foolproof way" to distinguish between jihadists and moderates, then "we'll go back to allowing them to serve," said Fischer.
Fischer's worldview echoes what conservative Protestants said about presidential candidate John Kennedy. They claimed that as a devout Catholic, he would take orders from the Pope, who would then control the presidency and make America a Catholic nation.
Members of the Christian Right questioned the devotion of Jimmy Carter to authentic Christianity, and hence, his legitimacy to serve. More recently, Mitt Romney tried to dispel fears about his Mormon faith in order to be a viable candidate for the Republican Party's presidential nomination.
Behind all these litmus tests of faith for government service is the conviction that America is a Christian nation, and not any kind of Christianity. America is really a conservative Protestant Christian nation.
Fischer asked in his blog only a few months ago, "Can a devout Muslim be a good American?"
"No," he answered. "This is simply because the values of Islam are fundamentally incompatible with the values of an America which has been formed and shaped by Judeo-Christian values."
Of course, Fischer is not alone.
Rusty Lee Thomas, leader of Elijah Ministries, asked rhetorically: "Can we continue to survive rejecting God and our Christian heritage for a 'bowl of humanistic pottage?' We are selling our birthright as Americans so we can be just as sophisticated and enlightened as the European nations that are in the midst of being conquered by Islam."
On the Christian Broadcasting Network's "The 700 Club," Pat Robertson said about the shooter at Fort Hood: "This guy was off his trolley. And they should have gotten him out. But nobody wanted to go after him because of political correctness. We just don't talk about somebody's quote religion."
Robertson then asserted that Islam was not a religion but a violent political system.
"We should treat it as such [a political system] and treat its adherents as we would members of the Communist Party or some Fascist group," mumbled Robertson.
Conservative columnist Cal Thomas wrote that some Americans were deceiving themselves about Islam and warned about Muslims working for our government.
"No amount of evidence—from Koran verses urging the killing of 'infidels,' to cries of 'God is great,' reportedly shouted by the alleged Fort Hood shooter, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan—will cure our self-deception," wrote Thomas. "Sun Tzu famously wrote that all war is deception. But it takes two to deceive and the United States is behaving like a willing partner."
A host of others have weighed in against American Muslims, including those who would exclude Muslims from military service.
Objecting to faith as a qualifier for military service or elected office on constitutional grounds holds little sway for those at the fringes. Making moral arguments about the wrongness of misguided prejudice gets little traction. Pointing out the loyalty to country by those of different faith traditions matters little to some conservative Christians.
The fear and smear are fanned by Fox News, fueled on talk radio, fed by blogs and stoked in pulpits. Our situation is dangerously viral.
About the only viable counterforce is for the majority of Christian ministers to stand up for goodwill American Muslims and to speak continuously for the separation of church and state. American Christian leaders need to get off the fence and face those on the fringes of faith.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. This editorial appeared originally on the Washington Post's "On Faith" Web page in a shorter version.