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Open Letter to Virginia Gov-Elect McDonnell: Words Matter

Dear Governor-Elect Robert F. McDonnell:
 

In response to the shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, Rev. Pat Robertson asserted that Islam is “not a religion” but a “violent political system” and that those who practice it should be treated like members of a communist or fascist party.

 

The vast majority of Muslims in America and in Virginia do not support the actions of the shooter at Fort Hood. As with the rest of America, they find the shootings to be absolutely horrifying and were extremely disappointed in the fact that someone would even try to use their religion to justify such an act of treason and criminal behavior. Many mosques and organizations in Virginia immediately issued statements condemning this criminal act.

 

While we believe that Rev. Robertson does not speak for you or for all Americans of Christian faith, his words matter because they come from someone who has a longstanding relationship with you.

 

In your 2006 interview when you were a guest on his program, “The 700 Club,” you asserted the “important role of the church and the family and the other institutions in society and what happens if government tries to take on those roles and can often make a mess.”

 

“It also gave me the real importance of being a Christian elected official … and acting in a degree of civility and trying to build bridges to get things done …,” you said.

 

This time, instead of the “bad Muslim” being a terrorist called Bin Laden, Rev. Robertson wants you and wants all Americans to “destroy bridges” and to believe that your Muslim neighbors, co-workers and classmates are all “bad” people who deserve to be treated as enemies. The choice for Rev. Robertson is not between good and bad individuals or citizens, but about being a Muslim.

 

We strongly disagree with Rev. Robertson’s words of intolerance and hate because we believe that our religious traditions are built upon love and compassion. We also believe that America’s civic fabric would be greatly strengthened if people from different backgrounds would come together to build understanding with one another and cooperate to serve the broader society rather than seek to divide and demonize whole groups of people.

 

Governor-elect McDonnell, words matter.

 

We do not blame a whole religion for the violent actions of some of its followers.

 

We do not blame Christianity for Timothy McVeigh’s act of domestic terrorism.

 

We do not blame Judaism for Bernard Madoff’s act of theft and betrayal. In our opinion, all religions should constantly challenge their adherents to live according to the highest ideals of their faith and all religions should condemn the violence and intolerance of some of their adherents.

 

Rev. Robertson’s words are more than a simple “disagreement.” For those who listen to him, they are a call to action: a call to hate your neighbor. They are against our tradition of religious tolerance and diversity, central to the character of our nation.

 

Words of hate such as those spoken by Rev. Robertson will create in America and in Virginia new room for bigotry and intolerance. Our shared traditions call upon us to create local spaces for mutual appreciation and understanding. Despite our theological differences, that fact that we Christians, Muslims and Jews worship the same God seems to escape people like Rev. Robertson.

 

We believe that it’s unfair to expect our political leaders to be held accountable for every foolish word that a supporter happens to say. But in this case, when the supporter is among your leading associates, it’s important for you to tell Virginians directly, and not through a spokesperson, that you do not agree with words of hate, intolerance and bigotry.

 

Gov-elect McDonnell: Some of us had the pleasure to know you in the past and we firmly believe that you aspire to be the governor of Virginians of all faiths. In this spirit, we are anxious to hear your public remarks opposing the divisive words of Rev. Robertson and asserting your vision of an inclusive Virginia.

 

Faithfully,

 

Imam Ammar Amonette, imam of the Islamic Center of Virginia, Richmond, Va.

 

Rabbi Ben Romer, rabbi, Congregation Or Ami, Richmond, Va.

 

Charlene P. Kammerer, bishop, Virginia Conference, The United Methodist Church

 

Dr. Charles Baugham, president and chair, The Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy

 

Rev. Charles E. Swadley, senior pastor, Lakeside United Methodist Church, Richmond, Va.

 

The Rev. David W. McKee, synod executive, Synod of the Mid Atlantic, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

 

Rev. Eric J. Moehring, pastor, Christ Lutheran Church, Richmond, Va.

 

Frank Neff Powell, bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Southwestern Virginia

 

The Rev. Gene Hagenberger, Church of the Brethren, Mid-Atlantic District executive minister

 

Dr. M. Imad Damaj, president, Virginia Muslim Coalition for Public Affairs

 

Dr. Jim Somerville, pastor, Richmond’s First Baptist Church

 

The Rev. Jonathan Barton, general minister, Virginia Council of Churches

 

The Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston, bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Virginia

 

Rabbi Martin P. Beifield Jr., rabbi, Congregation Beth Ahabah, Richmond, Va.

 

The Rev. Dr. Stephen Camp, conference minister, Southern Conference United Church of Christ

 

This open letter originally appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.