This week, as we try to understand protests in Libya and anti-Muslim hatred in our own country, I've been thinking of a simple but powerful story that Brian McClaren shared at this summer's Wild Goose Festival.
After the 9/11 attacks, Brian was praying about what to do and received a clear message from the Holy Spirit saying, "Your Muslim neighbors are in danger." He's not one of those types who receives crystal-clear instructional blueprints from God every day (does anyone? I'm skeptical), so he took it very seriously.
He hopped in his car and went to several mosques to deliver a letter he had written, a letter expressing his solidarity with American Muslims and his knowledge that the terrorist attacks of the day before were not their fault.
At one mosque, the imam had ordered the driveway gates to be closed because the community had already received a violent threat. Brian got there just as the gates were closing, and he made a split-second decision to gun the car anyway, putting the pedal to the floor even though a tiny and rather terrified imam was inside the complex yelling, "Stop! Stop!"
Brian got out of his car and walked up to the imam to proffer the letter, which the imam read while they were standing there. He got tears in his eyes and threw his arms around Brian, welcoming him inside. It was Brian's first time inside a mosque, and in an imam's office (which he noted "looks exactly like a pastor's office, except neater, and the books are in Arabic").
They got to be friends.
I found this story deeply moving, and I've been thinking of it this week as terrible events have unfolded. Religious hatred and ignorance seem to be everywhere. Yesterday I learned that one of the filmmakers responsible for the Innocence of Muslims movie is also a prominent anti-Mormon activist. According to Buzzfeed,
In 1977, Klein founded a group called Courageous Christians United, whose main focus is to expose Mormonism and Islam — both "false religions" and "cults" according to Klein — with protests outside their places of worship, low-rent media productions like the now-viral Youtube video, and SEO-efficient web properties.
To accomplish this, the group runs MormonInfo.org, an expansive collection of anti-Mormon content whose benign URL belies the intensity of its mission. In addition to boilerplate criticism of the church's doctrines and policies, the site once managed to sneak an activist into a Mormon temple — which, after an initial public tour, are only open to devout Latter-day Saints — and record one of the ceremonies. The site posted the video to YouTube under the headline, "Welcome to Mitt Romney's World," and described the ceremonial garb worn in the temple as that of a "gay Irish baker."
This connection underscores one of Brian McLaren's main points: that religious hatred breeds more religious hatred, and that hateful people's efforts to proclaim their own religious supremacy will trump everything in their path, including factual truth.
Brian's new book Why Did Jesus, Moses, Mohammed, and the Buddha Cross the Road? released this week, and I urge you to check it out. Books on interfaith relations don't tend to sell very well, which is a depressing fact of publishing; most of us prefer to read books that shore up our own point of view rather than ones that ask us to learn about others. But there's never been a greater need for us to approach our own claims to religious truth with humility and extend ourselves to those around us.
So . . . why did Jesus, Moses, Mohammed, and the Buddha cross the road?
Answer: to get to the Other.