President Bush deserves a word of thanks from goodwill Baptists for his inclusive approach to one of the three religions in the Abrahamic faith tradition. For the past eight years, he has hosted in the White House an annual Iftaar dinner, a meal after sunset that breaks the daily fast for Muslims during Ramadan. He has shown the world the good side of people of faith.
“During Ramadan, we are reminded of Islam’s long and distinguished history. Throughout the centuries, the Islamic world has been home to great centers of learning and culture. Muslim thinkers and scientists have advanced the frontiers of human knowledge. People of all faiths have benefited from the achievements of Muslims in fields from philosophy and poetry to mathematics and medicine,” said the president.
Recognizing the technological innovation of an immigrant Iranian professor at Georgia Tech, Bush said that “one of the great strengths of our nation is its religious diversity. Americans practice many different faiths. But we all share a belief in the right to worship freely. We reject bigotry in all its forms.”
“My administration has been proud to work closely with Muslim Americans to promote justice and tolerance of all faiths,” he said.
“As we break the fast tonight, let us give thanks for all those who serve a cause greater than themselves,” said Bush. “Let us give thanks for the many ways that Muslim Americans have enriched our lives.”
Bush’s remarks last week differ profoundly from the anti-Islamic smear within Christian Right circles.
Dennis Baxley, the executive director of the Christian Coalition of Florida, recently attacked Sen. Barack Obama and smeared Islam.
“He’s pretty scary to us,” said Baxley. “I think his Muslim roots and training ”while they try to minimize it ”it’s there.”
Baxley said: “I’m probably typical of all of the people who are suspect of those Muslim roots. We all know what early intervention with children is all about, and I am really wondering what the influence was on him from his father’s background and being in a Muslim country. I’m not cooking up some plot about Muslims trying to inject a leader into our country but I am wondering how it influences his thinking.”
A Southern Baptist, a member of First Baptist Church of Belleview, a “man on a mission,” Baxley was praised as a state legislator who kept a Bible and an Experiencing God devotional booklet on his State Capitol desk.
Yet Baxley’s comments about Obama and Islam disclose a fearful faith and a judgmental attitude, both of which authentic Bible study and the devotional life should counteract.
One of the biblical themes is “fear not;” one of the positive purposes of prayer is to create a “pure heart.”
Baxley reveals neither of these virtues in his remarks.
Baxley and others in the Christian Right constantly question the integrity of Obama’s faith by playing the prejudice card against Islam.
Obama is a self-professed Christian, who has shared his faith often enough that it appears authentic, certainly as authentic as any other American politician who has a Christian narrative.
Ironically, Vice President Dick Cheney has no discernable Christian narrative and reveals no real churchmanship. Yet his lack of faith appears beyond reproach within Christian Right circles, which is another reminder that what really energizes the Christian Right is ideology, not Christology, control of government, not congregational commitment.
Critiquing how Obama applies his faith in politics shows moral discernment. Questioning his experience in public life or his character is acceptable. Criticizing Obama for his public policies is fair game.
When the Christian Right casts stones at Obama out of fear and judgmentalism, they reveal the dark side of religion.
Maybe that’s why Bush’s White House dinner and comments were such a positive, albeit underreported, matter. Bush placed the light of good religion on the hill for all to see.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.