Getting to Know You

If men could only know each other, they would neither idolize nor hate. 
                                                                              —Elbert Hubbard

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Articles in last week’s Time magazine and the August 23rd edition of the Washington Post hint at a growing anti-Muslim sentiment among Americans.  Or maybe I should say “anti-Muslims” sentiment—plural—because that’s part of the problem.  When you lump people together you tend to stereotype, and judge the whole group on the behavior of a few. 

It’s happened to me. 

Three decades ago a Southern Baptist evangelist named Bailey Smith said publicly, “God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew.”  He claimed that he said it “with all due respect to those dear people,” but last Sunday afternoon I was invited to an open house at a local synagogue where I got the feeling that some of those dear people had not forgotten what he said.  They greeted me warmly, thinking I might be a prospect, but when I introduced myself as pastor of First Baptist Church there was a brief  pause and then the question: “Are you…Southern Baptist?”

This kind of thing happens to me often, and not only in Jewish synagogues.  Because some Baptists have done or said offensive things, many people assume that all Baptists are like that.  I encourage them to get to know some Baptists, because no two of us are exactly alike.  Billy Graham is a Baptist, but so is Bill Clinton.  Jesse Helms was a Baptist, but so is Jesse Jackson.  Lottie Moon was a Baptist, but so is Britney Spears.

See what I mean? 

I would guess that the same is true for Muslims, that if we would take the time to get to know some of them we would find that they are like people everywhere: concerned for the health and well-being of their families, for their children’s education, and for the freedom to enjoy some of the simple pleasures of life, like a picnic lunch on the Fourth of July.  And in the same way I wouldn’t want anyone to judge me on the basis of the worst they have ever heard about Baptists, I wouldn’t want to judge an entire religion or its 1.5 billion adherents on the basis of what some Muslims have done, would you?

So, get to know your new Muslim neighbor.  You may find that he has as much in common with Osama bin Laden as I have in common with Britney Spears, which is to say…not much.

BONUS: Here’s a song that will have you humming the rest of the day.