As an Oklahoma City resident who celebrates religious diversity, I was alarmed when I heard about the "I Don't CAIR" conference sponsored by Reclaiming Oklahoma for Christ and was held at Trinity Baptist Church in Yukon in March. I decided to attend because I was curious. I was a guest at the dinner sponsored by CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) the previous weekend.
CAIR is a civil rights organization working to enhance understanding of Islam and to improve relations between Islamic-Americans and people of all faiths in America. It has chapters throughout the U.S., including one in Oklahoma.
In today's atmosphere of economic stress and political divisiveness, some elements seem to gain favor by attacking groups they say threaten us, including Muslim-Americans. We regularly hear national radio shock-jocks railing against Muslims and others in America as a danger among us. Emotions at the "I Don't CAIR" event were raised to a fever pitch.
Attended by hundreds, the event featured an incendiary documentary titled "Islam Rising: Geert Wilders' Warning to America," presented by keynote speaker Martin Mawyer, founder of the national Christian Action Network.
The film chronicles much violence by Islamic extremists, a lot of familiar footage of the Sept. 11 attacks and repeated citings of Quran passages exhorting Islam's faithful to spread the faith around the world. An apocalyptic soundtrack and sinister animations of masked Muslims excited fear and anger among people at the event. The audience could not help but feel frenzied, anti-Muslim sentiment.
It is easy to forget how violently Christianity has been thrust upon others over the centuries. The Crusades caused millions of deaths that Muslims remember well. The Inquisition tortured and burned alive hundreds of thousands. Christians in North America exterminated non-Christian "savages" who were here first, claiming "Manifest Destiny."
Moderate people denounce vitriolic divisiveness and scapegoating of other cultures, races, religions and differences. Humanity can coexist, celebrating differences and following our own consciences in religious and spiritual matters. Violence is decried by moderates of all faiths.
Jesus did not demand a religious check of the Roman centurion whose servant needed healing. Jesus' measure of a person was their compassion, generosity, justice, integrity, nonviolence and peace. He taught that we should not judge, lest we be judged. If there was anything Jesus hated, it was hypocrisy, particularly of those who made a public show of religiosity and prayer, but whose personal lives were as selfish and prideful as anyone's.
Unsubstantiated accusations of CAIR's association with terrorism malign Americans who practice Islamic traditions and have every right to do so in America's world-renowned atmosphere of religious freedom. The vitriol demonstrated at the "I Don't CAIR" conference was reminiscent of the fearmongering foisted upon Depression-scourged Germans by the Nazis into hatred and fear of Jews.
The Rev. Paul Blair's Reclaiming Oklahoma for Christ organization seems more concerned with publicly judging others they consider unworthy rather than living more Christlike lives. Anger, bigotry and ultimately violence flourish when emotions are manipulated with fear, divisive language and slander. I wonder what the master would say?
Gresham, an Oklahoma City resident, is a residential building contractor. He attends Mayflower United Church of Christ.