taking the words of Jesus seriously

Salaam aleikum, shalom, and peace be with you at the end of your holy month of Ramadan and on the eve of a reflective and solemn moment for Americans on the Tenth Anniversary of 9/11.

Many who share my evangelical Christian faith may believe if you are writing to someone of another faith you are either a) trying to convert them or b) watering down your own faith in the process. Let me assure you I am doing neither. The purpose of this letter is to ask for forgiveness and help clarify a common misunderstanding.

I am a young evangelical pastor. I take the authority of Scripture and the centrality of Christ very seriously. As a result, I take loving my neighbor very seriously. Unfortunately I do not believe we have done a good job of loving our Muslim neighbors here in America and across the world.

I am deeply troubled 10 years later by our country’s response to 9/11. For a brief moment in the aftermath of the Twin Towers, Pentagon destruction, and burning fields of Pennsylvania we were united as a country. We were even united as a world. We felt the outpouring of concern from people across the world who knew we were innocently attacked.

These moments were short lived. We quickly lost our way by beginning to think we had the right answers. Our political leaders believed the solution to this injustice was to attack al Qaeda in Afghanistan and subsequently the country of Iraq. However, they promised answers and revenge for 9/11 that we in the church and faith community did not seek. These solutions centered around the use of military force and only served to exacerbate the cultural, political, and religious divides we were trying to heal.

The Bible talks a lot about fools. Fools are people who believe that the problem is always rooted in someone else. Ironically many fools are also very religious. Fools believe that if others would only change, the world would be a better place. The big problem with fools is they do not own their part of the problem. They do not confess how their own sins may be contributing to the evil and injustice in the world.

Many of us Christians in America have been fools. We have not taken Jesus’s command seriously to take the plank out of our own eye so we can see the speck in our neighbor’s eye. Too often we have associated all Muslims with violence and hatred. In doing so we have not modeled the way of Christ.

Regrettably, many Americans associate the Muslim faith with terrorism and Osama Bin Laden. This is obviously a misrepresentation.

Likewise, I am concerned that many Muslims may associate people like Anders Breivik with the Christian faith. In July, Breivik single-handedly killed 77 people in Norway claiming he was doing “God’s work.” Breivik was a terrorist just like Bin Laden. He in no way represents the God I follow and serve.

We must never believe anyone who claims to speak for God and yet acts out violently. Terrorism has no religious affiliation. Its only affiliation is evil.

We must come together no matter what our faith and model what it truly means to be peacemakers.

On Sunday, the 10th anniversary of 9/11, our new church is taking up an offering for famine relief in the Horn of Africa. For us, this is a small act of reconciliation. A small but important way for us to say to the Muslim world that we are sorry for the ways we have portrayed you over the last 10 years. We want to make things right. Let’s work together to make this world a safer, more just and peaceful place for everyone.

The Rev. Aaron Graham is the lead pastor of the District Church in Washington, D.C., and a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School.

This article originally appeared in the Washington Post’s “On Faith” Section

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