How to Respond to Fanatics

This afternoon at the bus stop, I had a conversation with the Muslim woman who picks up her granddaughter, a lovely little first grader with a big smile, straightforward manner and lime-green head scarf (how do they keep it fastened all day?). I told her I was sorry about what was going on. I was sorry about all the ugliness, all the scapegoating, all the offensive, hateful gestures. As a Christian pastor, I was sad, and disgusted, at what was being planned in Jesus’ name in Florida on Saturday.

I debated whether to say anything, though. I don’t hold moderate Muslims responsible for 9/11. So why should I apologize for the KKK, Fred Phelps, or pastor Terry Jones?

I ultimately decided that in this case, “I’m sorry” meant “I share your sorrow.” And that’s always a good, worthwhile message. At the end of the conversation I was surprised when this reserved, soft-spoken Muslim grandmother from Pakistan hugged me. We live in a very tolerant melting pot here in Fairfax County, but she seemed… relieved? I share this story in case there’s anyone out there thinking, “Surely my Muslim neighbors know I’m not one of those people.” Maybe not. Or maybe they do know, but it’s still nice to be reminded you’re not alone.

Here is something I struggle with: I don’t want to give those attention-mongers in Gainesville one iota of additional publicity. This is a meaningless stunt, and it’s a tiny, fringe group of people behind it. Yet some things are so egregious that they must be answered with action. I know folks who are going to donate $1 to Park 51 for every Qur’an burned. Others are scheduling a “read the Qur’an” day. I’m considering a pastoral letter to the congregation asking people to consider similar actions on the anniversary of 9/11.

How do we thread this needle?

I wrote on a friend’s blog this week, in response to a different topic:

Karl Barth once preached an entire hour-long sermon in the 1930s to a group of German pastors without once mentioning Hitler. He was accused of being irresponsible, but he said, “Hitler is a nothing. I am called to preach Christ crucified.” …Hitler is not a “nothing,” but Barth’s point is, we sure can get blown off course… And we can get mired in the pointless kerfuffles that don’t ultimately matter. I think it’s time to stop talking about Glenn Beck, for example. We’ve said our piece and will continue to preach social justice and it’s time to move on.

Hitler was not a pointless kerfuffle, of course. But are we going to let the fanatics define what we say and do? Talk about being blown about by every wind of doctrine! (Ephesians 4)

The tension is this: When must we stand up and say, “No,” and when does standing up and pointing at the thing we’re condemning increase the attention to (and thus legitimize) the fanatics?

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8 thoughts on “How to Respond to Fanatics

  1. Ted Fulmer says:

    I don’t agree that paying attention to a shameful act in any way legitimizes it, but I get your point. On the one hand I find the circus act in Florida unbelievable, but on the other hand I guess we should count ourselves lucky that there aren’t more like them, given the amount of ‘nightmare fuel’ that has been spread around.

    Thank you for reaching out to the woman. I only wish there were a few other moms there to witness your act of kindness and courage.

    • mamdblueroom says:

      Well, I don’t think it was all that courageous… but it needed to be said.

      I guess what I’m pinging off of is something I have mentioned in another post recently, which is the media practice of presenting two points of view in the name of balance, even if one side is way on the fringe (see: birthers). It’s the thing of “I’m not even going to dignify that with a response.”

      From a tactical standpoint, it seems to me that we either need to COMPLETELY ignore this burn the Qur’an thing, or we need to COMPLETELY blast it off the front page, thoroughly and decisively. To fall somewhere in between just conveys a sense of dueling protests: “eh, some people think this, and other people think that.”

  2. Jay says:

    I must know, were the BSM around and if so how they reacted.

    • mamdblueroom says:

      Sadly, the only time I could do it was when we had all dispersed. I will have to take my stand for justice another time 🙂

      I did tell one of them about it afterward, and she was very supportive of what I’d done, but I could tell she was very ignorant of Islam. Not that I’m not, but when I told her that Islam reveres Jesus she was surprised.

  3. sherry says:

    I think that your response to this ties well into your post about the Samaritan…..and that may be the way to make it preach. At least, that would make me sit up and listen in the pews.

  4. Keith says:

    I tried to find YouTube footage of this, but there’s too much to wade through.

    A long time ago, during Pee Wee Herman’s first round of fame, he was a guest on Letterman. Letterman was in his kinda-mean phase, if I recall correctly, and he took some sort of unjustified shot at his guest.

    Pee Wee’s response, in that I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I voice:

    “David LETTERman! David LETTERman! David LETTERman! David LETTERman!”

    That ended it.

  5. Asad S. Jafari says:

    MA, as a member of the Muslim community (although not necessarily Muslim) and as a member of the brown immigrant community I can tell you that what you did was like a drink of cold water for someone in the desert. A lot of older immigrant Muslims in the US feel isolated from “white Christian America” and a large part of that is our own fault. However, the isolation still exists and apart from the workplace there isn’t a whole lot of interaction with our white Christian brothers and sisters. So what you did was act as an unwitting but extremely welcome ambassador and you gave peace and relief to this lady. I’ll bet you that that lady went home and told her whole family about the wonderful Christian woman she had just met and what she had said. Thank you. And a big thank you hug from me, too.

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