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Moderates Should Conspire To Take Over America

I’d like to direct this to American Muslims:

Dear Friends of Faith,

One of my Baptist brethren says you are busy plotting the takeover of America, but I hope you’ll pause in your preparations for a moment to read these words from a fellow faith child of Abraham.

There are vast and significant differences between our faith traditions. But let me point to one area where we should get together and commiserate: Both of our traditions have been hijacked by extreme fundamentalism.

David Clippard is the current executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention. In a public sermon on Monday, he declared that Islam has a strategy to conquer America, that Muslim student groups get support for this cause and that, eventually, anyone who does not convert of their own accord will be forced to adopt Islamic law.

His words are ridiculous, but painful. Obviously, they are painful to you, but it is important for you to know that they also are painful to Baptists around the world. We hate this sort of hate speech. I shared Clippard’s words with my congregation on Wednesday night. They were aghast, angry, sad and sorry.

We want to apologize, but we recognize the limitations of such expressions. After all, are we responsible for the extreme fundamentalists who have taken our beloved Bible and turned it into a sword of hatred?

Are we responsible for those who would take our central symbol, the cross meant to express self-sacrificial love, and use it as an offensive statement? (Referring to Muslims, Clippard’s sermon said that we must “crucify you in Christ!”)

As an Oklahoman who had a friend die in the Oklahoma City bombing, I ask: Are Christians somehow responsible for Timothy McVeigh–just as the extreme fundamentalists blame Islam for Osama?

Muslims often are criticized for not actively fighting fundamentalism. I have voiced this criticism myself. Indeed, part of our commiseration can revolve around discussions of how we walk the narrow road of moderation.

It is not always obvious how to fight fundamentalism and secularism. The values that we believe God gave to us are undermined by both. At the same time, we often find ourselves in the unenviable position of being called unfaithful by fundamentalists and irrational by secularists.

We share the view that fundamentalists and secularists have misplaced the foundation of ethical behavior and that both literalism and rationalism are idols. And so we follow our shared faith-Father Abraham who, according to the story in your tradition, crushed the idols in his own father’s “idol shop.”

Neither Clippard’s words nor the seemingly positive reception of those words represent the teachings of Christ. I have a feeling that you already know this, but I think you need to hear it from one of “us.” And although comparisons can be overwrought, I can imagine your feelings of frustrations as your own faith tradition is used to fan the flames of hate and promote violence.

Let us take a moment, then, to cry together, and then begin plotting together how to “take over” America with the values of mutual respect and active dialogue.

Scott Stearman is senior pastor at Kirkwood Baptist Church in St. Louis. This column appeared Nov. 5 in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and is used here with the author’s permission.