taking the words of Jesus seriously

The events of 9/11 retain a powerful grip on our collective consciousness. Nearly every American adult can answer “what were you doing during the attacks?” Personally and collectively, we’ve been profoundly shaped by 9/11.

But new research shows how we can be conflicted between ideals and application. We struggle to implement our values into our lives and our public policy. This raises serious questions about what it means to live as followers of Jesus in an increasingly diverse post-9/11 country.

New research from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and from the Public Religion Research Institute and Brookings Institute says:

  1. Being Muslim in America. Nearly nine in 10 Americans say that the U.S. was founded on the idea of religious freedom for everyone. But we are deeply divided over whether the values of Islam are at odds with American values and ways of life (47 percent agree, 48 percent disagree). Most say they’re comfortable around Muslims, but many judge self-identified Christians and Muslims differently when they commit religiously based violence.
  2. Islamic extremism. Two thirds of Americans are very or somewhat concerned about the possible rise of Islamic extremism in the U.S. Almost three in four are at least somewhat concerned about Islam’s rise around the world. Most reject the idea that 9/11 triggered a “clash of civilizations” between the Western and Muslims worlds.
  3. Generational differences. Seniors are nearly twice as likely as Millennials to say that they are very concerned about Islamic extremism within the U.S. Plus, Millennials are twice as likely as seniors to say that they are bothered about Muslims being singled out for increased government surveillance and monitoring. Younger Americans are more than twice as likely as seniors to say that U.S. actions may have inspired the 9/11 attacks.
  4. The wars go on. We already knew that a majority of Americans think the U.S. has accomplished its mission in Afghanistan and should bring troops home. A majority has opposed the Iraq war for years. Most Americans say the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have increased or made no difference in the risk of terrorism in the U.S. Only about one in four say the wars have lessened the chance of repeat attacks. In fact, women are more likely (47 percent) than men (28 percent) to say that the war in Afghanistan has increased the likelihood of terrorist violence in the U.S.
  5. Attitudes toward immigrants. PRRI’s research found solid support for the basic idea of the proposed Dream Act: allowing undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to gain legal resident status if they join the military or go to college (57 percent favor, 40 percent oppose). Nearly half of Americans say that discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities. A majority of Americans believe immigrants strengthen American society.

In such turbulent times, what binds us together? Our ideals or our practice of them? Our common quest for the elusive American dream? What we believe or what we look like? What we’ve done or what we’re still reaching for?

It is natural and necessary to struggle with applying our ideals and values in life. It is a struggle toward healing and hope for all, for the alleviation of cycles of suffering and violence in our homes, in our communities and in our world. It is a struggle done out of love for our God and our neighbor. It is a struggle in which we must strive toward peace and justice for all.

Sheldon C. Good is a former Sojourners media assistant. He is assistant editor for Mennonite Weekly Review and blogs at The World Together.

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