Falwell's comments seem un-Christian

October 13, 2002|By G. Jefferson Price III | G. Jefferson Price III,PERSPECTIVE EDITOR

IF the Rev. Jerry Falwell represents Christianity, then count me out.

The same goes for his partner in evangelical obsession, Pat Robertson.

Christianity, as I know it, represents peace, love, forgiveness, charity, inclusiveness, struggle for the good of mankind as a whole, and hope.

Falwell, a Baptist minister, does not seem to embody or espouse these objectives. He is narrow-minded, singularly directed in his own bizarre mission; he is mean and insulting.

In an age when most of the Christian church is working toward ecumenism and understanding among the three monotheisms - Judaism, Christianity and Islam - he is a force of rejection and disparagement, which seems neither Christian, nor, really, American.

Last Sunday on CBS' 60 Minutes, Falwell told his interviewer that the Prophet Muhammad "was a terrorist ... a violent man, a man of war."

The overwhelming majority of Muslims do not support terrorism.

"As an American Muslim, I am working with my community to be part of our multi-ethnic, mosaic culture to ... coordinate with my countrymen and to project a united front against the terrorist threat that we face from overseas," writes Hassan Makhzoumi, a Maryland physician who is prominent in the Muslim community.

Because Muslims are committed to following the teachings of Muhammad, Makhzoumi protests, Falwell "characterized 8 million of his [American Muslim] countrymen as aspiring terrorists."

Falwell won't be too concerned about insulting Islam because he has no constituency to fear there. Why should he care that by using the opportunity he is given to speak as a prominent figure in the Christian right, he confirms a fundamental cause of the fear and loathing that outsiders feel toward Americans.

Falwell is indiscriminate in his insults. Immediately after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center, he and his comrade, the Rev. Pat Robertson of the self-proclaimed Christian Coalition, and star of the Christian evangelical TV show The 700 Club, proclaimed the attacks were punishment in part for the influence of abortionists, gays, feminists and liberals and other perceived anti-Christs in America.

Later, they sort of apologized. But not really.

With respect to Islam in America, Roberston has implied it has been a great mistake to allow so many Muslims to live in this country. In comments last February on his TV show, reported by the Washington Post, Robertson suggested a purer ethnic immigration policy might spare America. "The fact is that our immigration policies are now so skewed to the Middle East and away from Europe that we have introduced these people into our midst and undoubtedly there are terrorist cells all over them." Muslimrein?

Robertson and Falwell and a lot of others in the Christian right in America have formed a fascinating relationship with the right wing in Israel, which they may think is enhanced by the hatred and venom they heap on Muslims. Most Israelis I have spoken with find Robertson & Co. to be pretty absurd. Some of these Israelis are right-wingers, and while they laugh behind the backs of the Christian right, they recognize the importance in American politics of the American Christian right's support for the State of Israel.

The synergy seems to work like this: Christian legitimacy derives from Jewish legitimacy and that a Kingdom of Israel must exist in order for Christian aspirations to be fulfilled, including the Second Coming. What happens when the Second Coming actually occurs gets a little confusing, especially as the Jews would view it as the First Coming, if they accepted it at all. But the contradictions don't interfere - probably because at least one side isn't taking the other seriously.

The relationship between the Christian right and the Israeli right blossomed after Menachem Begin was elected prime minister of Israel and Ronald Reagan was elected president of the United States in 1980. Robertson was enthusiastic as Israel developed its relationship with Christian militias in south Lebanon, where he was supporting a Christian broadcasting station. Falwell's Moral Majority euphorically supported Begin and then Defense Minister Ariel Sharon as they developed their disastrous alliance with Christian militias in Beirut.

(Christian? Twenty years ago, while the Israeli army occupied Beirut, Israel's Christian militia allies went on a rampage in the Sabra and Shatilla Palestinian refugee camps, where they massacred more than 2,000 inhabitants - men, women, children - while the Israelis stood by outside. Alliances with Christian zealots can be harmful to your reputation, the Israelis learned.)

Last week I happened to see a broadcast by Pastor Jack Hayford, of The Church on the Way, The First Foursquare Church of Van Nuys, Calif., talking about why Christians should support the State of Israel. When it was over, I realized that although Pastor Hayford had thrown a scrap of sympathy to Palestinian Arabs, he did not mention that they include tens of thousands of Christians. Unmentioned, they seem not to fit into the ambitions of the American Christian right. Their numbers are dwindling, but the families of those who remain have been in place a lot longer than Robertson, Falwell, Hayford & Co.

So, I feel compelled to say this to my friend Hassan Makhzoumi: As an American and a Muslim, you passionately repudiate terrorism. As an American and a Christian, I repudiate Jerry Falwell and all his like-minded brethren.

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