Intolerance (noun) 1. Lack of toleration; unwillingness or refusal to tolerate or respect contrary opinions or beliefs, persons of different races or backgrounds. --Random House Dictionary
"Whatever religious people may say about their love of God or the mandates of their religion, when their behavior toward others is violent and destructive, when it causes suffering among their neighbors, you can be sure the religion has been corrupted…." --The Reverend Charles Kimball
The flames of religious inspired intolerance are burning bright in our world once again and my heart tells me that God in heaven must be weeping over just how stupid and cruel and violent God’s followers can be sometimes. So in Gainesville, Florida on March 20th, Pastor Terry Jones convened a mock trial of the Muslim faith, a six hour screed against the religion of 1.57 billion people. Jones and his congregation (all 30 of them at his home church) found Islam “guilty”, and following through on his threat last fall to burn the Koran, these religious folk did just that, soaked a holy book with kerosene and lit a match. The flames took awhile to catch but eleven days later, 8,000 miles away, a firestorm erupted in Mazar-I-Sharif, Afghanistan. There last Friday a mob of 20,000 sought revenge and blood. Whipped into a frenzy of hatred by their religious leaders in worship, the crowd stormed a United Nations facility and murdered twelve innocent people. Unable to find any Americans to vent their rage upon, the protesters killed anyone they could get their hands on: folks from Nepal, Sweden, Romania, Norway and even five Afghans. Some media outlets reported that two of the victims had been beheaded.
Just to recap these awful events makes my heart sick: as a believer in a God of ultimate love, a lifelong member of a church committed to mutual tolerance among religions, and as a religious leader aware that faith can heal or hurt, depending how it is taught. I am ashamed of what these so called “people of God” have done and claim to do, all in the name of God. For there is something so warped about such “religious” expression gone crazy, insane even. Who but the deluded or the mean or the heartless could ever use God to justify the killing of another human being, or the wholesale condemnation of an entire faith and people?
I know these are strong words, condemning even, but hatred, inspired by religion, will never go away unless more and more sane people of faith speak up and out against religious intolerance. In Afghanistan. In the United States. In Israel/Palestine where warring views of God and the land have created a segregated nation. In India and Pakistan where Hindus and Muslims regularly war among themselves, or with one another or who harass and attack Christian minorities. In Egypt where Coptic Christians can fear for their lives. In Africa where religious divisions lead to civil wars. Everywhere on God’s beautiful earth, religion is sometimes used as a political and social tool to divide, to judge, to hate, even to kill. Has always been, but will it be? Must it be thus?
I pray not. Because at its best religion is about love, this is God’s bottom line, at least in my take on faith. The best religion teaches its adherents about just how to get along with, tolerate, and welcome “the other”. The best religion is about serving the poorest of the poor, working for peace, making less cruel the life of this world, comforting the bereaved, wiping away the tears of the downtrodden. The best religion calls people into community to serve each other in love, and then serve the world in love. The best religion, real religion, is never ever about hate. Never ever about retaliation or bloodshed. Never ever about an “eye for an eye”. Never ever about oppression or violence.
So to those of little or no faith, you who may have even walked away from faith in frustration at the damage religion has caused: please don’t judge all Christians by the actions of Jones and his followers. Please don’t judge all Muslims by the actions of a frenzied mob a half a world away. Please don’t judge all religious people by the insane acts of a minority of believers in God. Most often their actions are not about religion or God. These are instead really about human power, politics, culture, history, and fear, but not God. At least not the God I know.
And so this Friday morning and Friday evening, on Sunday morning, in churches and temples and mosques and shrines around the world, billions of people will gather to worship God. To learn of God’s love. To try in their own ways, to repair a broken world. To speak to their God as their ancestors have for thousands of years. Not to kill. Not to hate. Not to hurt. Not to condemn. I only wish this was the story of faith making the news these days.
God is love. This is the central truth of religion. Maybe someday we humans will finally get it right.