Judge Roy Moore and American Christianity

In an interview conducted by Jeff Stein for Vox, one of Alabama’s Republican senatorial candidates, Judge Roy Moore, attempted to clarify his view of the relationship between the American Constitution and Christianity:

But to deny God — to deny Christianity or Christian principles — is to deny what the First Amendment was established for. You see, the First Amendment was established on Christian principles, because it was Jesus that said this: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and render unto God the things that are God’s.” He recognized the jurisdiction the government does not have — and that was the freedom of conscience.

If you were a complete atheist, or a Buddhist, or a Muslim, or whatever, you have freedom in this country to worship God and you can’t be forced otherwise. That’s a Christian concept. It’s not a Muslim concept.

Developing his theme of contrast between Christianity and Islam, Moore claimed this:

There are communities under Sharia law right now in our country. Up in Illinois. Christian communities; I don’t know if they may be Muslim communities.

But Sharia law is a little different from American law. It is founded on religious concepts.

To recap: the U. S. Constitution — the entire basis of the American legal system — is founded on Christian principles, but Sharia law is different because it is founded on religious concepts.

Also, when Stein challenges Moore to elaborate on those communities allegedly living under Sharia law, Moore replies, “I was informed that there were. But if they’re not, it doesn’t matter.” Because why would anybody care about things like verifiable evidence for  bold claims about a key issue?

Moore’s most basic claims about the legal relationship between religion and the U. S. Constitution are self-evidently contradictory and incoherent. By the way, Moore is a former chief justice of Alabama’s Supreme Court. And if you believe the polls, he’s about to be the Republican nominee for Jeff Sessions’s old Senate seat. In practice, this means that the people of Alabama are very likely to make him their next U. S. senator.

This is significant to me only as a barometer of the degree to which not-insignificant portions of the electorate are eager to embrace patent fruitcakery, so long as it is sufficiently white and sufficiently bigoted. As a Christian, I feel that it’s more significant to me because I hate that people like Moore too often symbolize my faith to people on all sides of the front lines in America’s culture wars.

Many on the right hasten to offer apologetics for his pernicious balderdash; many on the left hasten to cast all American Christians from the same mold as Moore, because they think that, deep down, he’s merely the most blatant, odious symptom of our unsupportable mass delusion. Judge Moore does not speak for me. To the extent that he represents any historical variant of the rich, multilayered tapestry of the Christian religion, he is representative of those threads tangled together underneath a moldy coffee stain.

And if you think Judge Moore speaks for you, then you are welcome to all the justifiable criticism and caricaturization that inevitably follows when a buffoon who has smeared himself in feces lights himself on fire and sings the national anthem in the public square. It’s an offensive spectacle to all who have eyes to see and ears to hear, and it is to be greatly regretted that the stench will cling to the clothes of all who happened to be present to witness it, regardless of where they happened to be standing at the time.

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Increasingly unpleasant and unbearable.

Jennifer Bryson, a pro-life Catholic who works at the Center for Islam and Religious Freedom, has found herself increasingly isolated in Christian conservative circles. In 2008, the conservative Witherspoon Institute, where she then worked, included Muslims in a project on the “Social Costs of Pornography.” Today, she fears, “it would be much harder to include Muslims as partners. So many supporters, including donors, would object that it would be viewed as more trouble as it’s worth.”

Bryson regularly participates in the annual March for Life on the National Mall. But “In past few years when people have found out about my work [with Muslims] it has become increasingly unpleasant and increasingly unbearable. When I’m at these events there are several people who will launch into tirades about Islam.” One of the anti-abortion publications she used to read is lifesitenews.com, which was created by a Canadian group called Campaign Life. But the site is now so infused with hostility to Muslims and Islam that she no longer reads it.

There are two ironies here. First, much of the Christian right’s influence rests on its success in building alliances between religious groups—evangelicals, Catholics, Mormons and Orthodox Jews—that were once bitterly hostile. Second, Christian conservatives have grown less sympathetic to Muslim religious freedom at exactly the moment that their rhetoric on behalf of religious freedom has grown more thunderous.

— Peter Beinart, “When Conservatives Oppose ‘Religious Freedom'”

A monochromatic and male bastion

I debated whether I should leave my job. Since I was not a political appointee, but a direct hire of the NSC, I had the option to stay. The incoming and now departed national security advisor, Michael Flynn, had said things like “fear of Muslims is rational.” Some colleagues and community leaders encouraged me to stay, while others expressed concern for my safety. Cautiously optimistic, and feeling a responsibility to try to help them continue our work and be heard, I decided that Trump’s NSC could benefit from a colored, female, hijab-wearing, American Muslim patriot.

The weeks leading up to the inauguration prepared me and my colleagues for what we thought would come, but not for what actually came. On Monday, January 23, I walked into the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, with the new staffers there. Rather than the excitement I encountered when I first came to the White House under Obama, the new staff looked at me with a cold surprise. The diverse White House I had worked in became a monochromatic and male bastion.

The days I spent in the Trump White House were strange, appalling and disturbing. As one staffer serving since the Reagan administration said, “This place has been turned upside down. It’s chaos. I’ve never witnessed anything like it.” This was not typical Republican leadership, or even that of a businessman. It was a chaotic attempt at authoritarianism––legally questionable executive orders, accusations of the press being “fake,” peddling countless lies as “alternative facts,” and assertions by White House surrogates that the president’s national security authority would “not be questioned.”

The entire presidential support structure of nonpartisan national security and legal experts within the White House complex and across federal agencies was being undermined. Decision-making authority was now centralized to a few in the West Wing. Frustration and mistrust developed as some staff felt out of the loop on issues within their purview. There was no structure or clear guidance. Hallways were eerily quiet as key positions and offices responsible for national security or engagement with Americans were left unfilled.

–Rumana Ahmed, I Was a Muslim in Trump’s White House

Three categories: American and Muslim and normal

While these clips may be designed to give Muslims a face and voice, they do so in a way that can undermine their aim.The videos include few traditional or conservative Muslims whose dress, accents, or descriptors are far from the norm. The implication that these Muslims are “normal” by American standards allows little space for Muslims who are not “normal”—even if that just means they don’t like Christmas movies. The Americanness of Muslims should not be predicated on their ability to blend in.

One of several response videos, which itself went viral, specifically critiques the mollifying aspect of these videos, preferring to assert political differences many Muslims may have. One participant sums up the response well: “I’m Muslim, but I don’t need to prove my loyalty to you or anyone else.”

That seems to be the fate of all Muslims’ efforts to blend in: rejection. These efforts can only bring exhaustion, along with the loss of distinctive elements of Muslim culture. Only by organizing politically, asserting themselves in the most American way of all, can they hope to make their true voice heard and eventually ensure their relative safety. They should not be afraid of displaying their customs, views, or practices that may appear different.

Muslims should not shy away from the fact that their religion is different from the norm of their supposedly secular country. Rather, they must demand that their country accepts them as they are, for all the contributions they make, even if that means failing to look, sound, and act like what America has deemed “normal”.

–Nafisa Eltahir, Muslim Americans Should Reject Respectability Politics