ELCA Bishop Girlinghouse in NewsOK

On S2S Voices in the News

Evangelical Lutheran Bishop Michael Girlinghouse spoke out against rising anti-Muslim sentiment in Oklahoma and called for Oklahomans to strive to know one another better.  His op-ed in NewsOK was shared over 100 times. 

Lutheran bishop: Islam doesn’t deserve the scorn it often receives


In recent weeks, Oklahoma became the focus of the fight against anti-Muslim bigotry in the United States. State Rep. John Bennett’s condemnation of the Islamic faith and the anti-Muslim sentiments surging in the aftermath of Alton Nolen’s beheading of a woman in Moore have turned the nation’s eyes to the state’s treatment of this often misunderstood and misrepresented religion.


Throughout the centuries, religion has been used to justify all manner of individual and collective atrocities. No religion is immune from this sad reality. However, religion has also motivated profound acts of compassion and reconciliation. As a motivation for human behavior, religion is almost always intertwined with other motivations, both base and blessed. To blame Nolen’s violent attacks on Islam is to misunderstand both the person and the religion.


Islam is a religion of peace that’s been twisted by some to justify actions contradictory to its core teachings — just as other religions, including Christianity, have been used to perpetrate hostility, hatred and violence. A single Bible verse can be lifted out of context to make a case for or against just about anything; non-Muslims lift verses from the Koran to support the hate-filled perspectives of terrorists and those who argue that Islam has no place in Oklahoma. This vitriol has the potential to escalate extremist violence rather than stem it.

Rather than vilify our neighbors, we should strive to know one another better. Working toward greater understanding can free us to address some of the real issues that perpetuate violence in this state.

Among the anti-Muslim bigotry that too often surges in the aftermath of extremist attacks, we often hear a public call for Muslim leaders to condemn such attacks. Yet Muslim leaders have repeatedly made it clear that extremist violence has no place in the Islamic faith. Through the Oklahoma Conference of Churches, religious leaders from across the state have joined Muslim partners in these condemnations.


I encourage all people of faith to stand alongside the Muslim community in doing the same — rather than to make a show of criticizing Muslim leaders for what they have or haven’t done. I’ve been privileged to work alongside Muslim friends to address community issues, build understanding and address common concerns. Through the Oklahoma Conference of Churches, we’ve brought youth together from diverse religious traditions to build understanding — and to discourage hate and fear. We’ve united partners from Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities.

Islam is a peaceful, proactive religion. It doesn’t deserve the hate it often receives. Focusing on building relationships will go much further in creating safe, secure communities. All people of faith need to work together to make this a reality.

Girlinghouse is bishop of the Arkansas-Oklahoma Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

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