Several months ago a dear friend sent a forwarded email to me containing a story about a Supreme Court decision banning the teaching of Islam in our nation’s public school. The story said that “the court ruled 5-4, with Justice Gorsuch casting the tie-breaker, that the only Islam taught to our children in public school will be the history of Radical Islam and what they can do to help stop it.” It went on to say that newly installed Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion, stating that “we should not be teaching any religions in this country besides standard Judeo-Christianity, as our founders wanted, and we certainly shouldn’t be filling the children with lies about Islam being a ‘religion of peace’ when they see the carnage on the news almost every day.”
As I read the article I thought, “This can’t be real”, so I researched the story and within less than a minute I discovered that it was a fake news story that was making its way throughout the internet. I was not shocked to find that a news story on the internet was not true, but I was saddened to think that Christians would not properly vet a story before they forwarded it. In this age of fake news and quick sound bites we need to be very careful about what we believe to be true. So much of the political and social divisiveness we are experiencing today is caused by a failure to be properly informed of the truth.
For example, last week I heard about a group called Patriot Prayer that was planning to host a free speech rally in San Francisco. I was unfamiliar with this group, but while watching local news coverage I heard a congresswoman from San Francisco refer to them as a white supremacist hate group. I also heard a senator from California refer to Patriot Prayer as a hate group affiliated with white nationalists. The mayor of San Francisco called them a far right hate group. Personally, I had never heard of Patriot Prayer, so I decided to become better informed by doing a little research on them.
Before I continue let me be clear: this is not an article supporting or defending Patriot Prayer. I do not know anyone affiliated with Patriot Prayer, nor have I been to any rallies that they have organized. Yet when I viewed their Facebook page and searched the internet I discovered that their founder is of Asian descent, and their speakers include African-Americans, Latinos, a transgendered female, as well as Caucasians. They come from different points on the political spectrum. Some of them are supporters of President Trump, and some them are not supporters of President Trump. They claim that the purpose of their rallies is to promote free speech and to show that people with different points of view can come together and have a peaceful and respectful dialogue.
While their name has attracted people from far-right groups to attend their rallies, Patriot Prayer denounces all hate groups from both the right and the left. They tell white nationalist groups that they are not welcome at their rallies, and they allow people with opposing views as theirs the platform to speak at their rallies. In fact, at a rally in Seattle, Patriot Prayer leaders approached a crowd of protesters and invited members of Black Lives Matter on the stage and allowed them a chance to speak. This is not something a white nationalist hate group would do. Rally organizers asked Vallejo rapper Work Dirty to perform at the San Francisco event. When he was asked by KTVU why he agreed to do this he explained, “I did my research. They’re not white supremacists. I’m the blackest black man. They can’t be white supremacists if they invited me.”
Again, my purpose is not to support Patriot Prayer. But Exodus 20:16 says, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” I wonder how many people, including Christians, believed what was reported on the news without taking the time to research this group and find out who they really are. High-ranking elected officials publicly labeled them a far-right white supremacist hate group, but an article in the San Jose Mercury News reports that the Southern Poverty Law Center does not have Patriot Prayer listed as a hate group. Did these elected officials or anyone on their staff research them before denouncing them? How many of us form opinions based on sound bites from cable news shows and online news websites without taking the time to become properly informed?
As followers of Jesus Christ we must avoid identifying ourselves with the political ideologies that are dividing our country. Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God (Matthew 5:9). One way we can be peacemakers is to be properly informed and to know that there are many sides to every story. God has given us the ability to discern between the truth and the lies, and when we can look past our own political leanings and prejudices and try to understand the viewpoint of opposing sides we are being peacemakers. I believe this is a part of being salt and light in the world (Matthew 5:12-16).
I would imagine that everyone in our church family was shocked, sickened, and saddened by the recent violence in Charlottesville, VA. The images of white supremacists marching and chanting that filled our television and computer screens doesn’t seem real to me. And I confess that I have deep prejudice against these people. As a follower of Jesus I embrace the ideals of grace, forgiveness, and loving one’s enemies, but I must admit: I have deep hatred in my heart for this kind of garbage. To see and hear Americans in 2017 espousing the hatred of the KKK and Nazism fills me with anger.
As Christ-followers we must stand against all injustice, including racism, sexism, and hatred of any kind. We must also stand against all forms of violent protest, regardless of which side of the political spectrum they are on. When far-right groups use violence, we must denounce them. When far-left groups use violence, we must denounce them just as strongly. Any group that uses violence against others is a hate group, regardless of who they are.
Let me encourage you to strive to be peacemakers in these tumultuous times. Take the time to become informed and to understand every side of every issue. We must stand against all forms of hatred and violence, and we need to recognize that there are many groups out there from all over the political spectrum that use hatred and violence to advance their cause. Let us not fall into the trap of getting drawn into useless political debates that promise to divide. Let us make Jesus the subject of every dialogue, and let us bring the love and peace of God into every conversation.
Your servant in Christ,