ELCA Bishop Gonia in the Colorado Springs Gazette

On S2S Voices in the News

GUEST COLUMN: A more Christian conversation about Islam

James W. GoniaPublished: September 27, 2014

In recent months, public dialogue in the United States around Islam and the Muslim community has become increasingly tense. Extreme voices, claiming to represent primarily those of Christian faith, have proclaimed false and prejudicial conspiracy theories as fact: that Islam is an enemy to the United States, that all Muslims are secretly (or openly) anti-American, and that all Muslim leaders are enemies of democracy.

These voices have used think tanks and universities as platforms in an attempt to legitimize their views, including recently at Colorado Christian University, where John Guandolo gave a talk this month entitled “Civilizational Jihad in America: Are You Prepared?” His talk implied that ‘true’ Islam is extremist Islam, conflating the actions of terrorist groups with the supposed secret intentions and beliefs of all Muslims in the United States. Guandolo repeatedly referred to Muslims as “our enemy,” and his talk conveyed his belief that American Muslims have no First Amendment rights. The Southern Poverty Law Center describes his unsubstantiated conspiracy theories as those of a “disreputable character.”

Voices such as Guandolo’s lean heavily on the rhetorical trope of Christians-versus-Muslims that has, for many people, come to represent the predominant “Christian view” of Islam in the public square. I would like to suggest that these claims, in fact, represent the views of a very small number of ideologues. There is another, stronger, more loving Christian voice that seeks dialogue instead of demonetization, unity instead of division, and understanding instead of fear and ignorance with respect to the Muslim community in the United States.

As a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and now as bishop of ELCA’s Rocky Mountain Synod, I believe that Christians are called to speak out against voices that preach suspicion and hatred of religious minorities. To that end, our church has a public witness to engage in dialogue, pursue mutual understanding, and foster unity among our interfaith partners. We seek to accompany these partners through initiatives including the Shoulder to Shoulder Campaign: Standing with American Muslims, Upholding American Values.

We grieve for the ways in which Islamic extremism gives Americans a grossly distorted image of the religious beliefs and practices of the American Muslim community. While we must be vigilant about threats from all kinds of extremism, we must be careful not to tar an entire community for the sins of a disturbed few. This is why education and dialogue are so important. In conversation with our Muslim neighbors in the U.S., we discover that they, like us, desire a safe, peaceful environment in which to live, work and raise families. We find that Muslim leaders will stand with us in opposing extremism. We learn that they can teach us about cultural and religious misunderstandings. Those who would seek to divide us from one another are not as powerful as we can be when we stand up and speak together in unity, solidarity and mutual respect.

The work of building interfaith relationships is difficult, and at times, unpopular. But as a Lutheran, as a Christian, and as a person of faith, I believe we are called to love our neighbor. And we cannot truly love our neighbors unless we first seek to know and understand them.

Compelled by our faith and inspired by the example of Jesus, we join the voices of people of many faiths in calling for respectful public dialogue. May our example inspire others around the world to build cross-cultural and inter-religious bridges, to name ideological extremism in all places and not allow it to cloud our judgment of our relationships, and to pursue peace and justice for all people.


The Rev. James W. Gonia is the bishop 
of the Rocky Mountain Synod 
of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Read more at http://gazette.com/guest-column-a-more-christian-conversation-about-islam/article/1538364#dEwbl6FAYee11XyB.99

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