Sunday, January 31, 2016

Open Letter to Local Christian Right Pastors: How to Be Better Haters of Evil

Image Credit: NC Pastors Network
If we propose some principle that is to be applied to antagonists, then we must agree -- in fact, strenuously insist -- that the principle apply to us as well. Those who do not rise even to this minimal level of integrity plainly cannot be taken seriously when they speak of right and wrong, good and evil...
 - Noam Chomsky 

My local newspaper just ran a paid advertisement by a group of self-described "committed followers of Christ" writing ostensibly about (wait for it...) "Understanding Islam." These (mostly Baptist) pastors - including members of the American Pastors Network and a local chapter of ACT for America - want you to be sure to understand that they are not "bigoted, hateful, or intolerant." Their "clarion corrections" are simply "presented in an effort to state the truth" about Islam, namely that:
  • "Islam" means "submission" (via violence if necessary) - not "peace."
  • Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God
  • Jesus was not a Muslim.
  • Most "acts of terror" are committed by Muslims.
  • All terrorist groups have "100% Muslim membership."
  • Terrorist groups are the "very essence of [Islam]."
The advertisement is signed by a number of pastors in my local area, and I think their own words aptly demonstrate why they "plainly cannot be taken seriously when they speak of right and wrong, good and evil" (Chomsky). And yet I know all too well that some people do take them seriously. I also take them at their word that they want to be better haters of evil. So I want to focus here on what they left out of their advert.

These concerned Christians had nothing to say about cruelty and violence in the Bible - which (just like with Islam) is dependent on interpretation - or anti-government summer camps in the U.S. "where God's Word and patriotism go hand in hand." They were silent about Ammon Bundy, Dylann Roof, Robert Dear, Eric Rudolph, Timothy McVeigh, the Bundy Militia, the Army of God, Concerned Christians, the Lord's Resistance Army, and the growing right-wing terror threat in the U.S. Their advertisement didn't include any condemnation of presidential candidates openly promising to commit war crimes, and they offered no comfort for holocaust survivors concerned about the current tone of political rhetoric in our country. And like Obama, they also didn't tell us that we have a miniscule risk of dying in a terrorist attack in the U.S., or that our current national panic about terrorism is not rational.

They didn't explain that Sikhs are not Muslims or that Muslim taxi drivers in Pittsburgh are probably not ISIS. They didn't encourage or denounce armed protests at Islamic houses of worship. And they didn't say anything at all about the Charleston church massacre or the subsequent appearance of confederate battle flags all over our area.

Finally, and most notably, they said nothing about religious freedom or interfaith dialogue - and they did not mention stochastic terrorism. Perhaps they should take a hard look in the mirror and address some of these issues in a future advertisement if they really want us to take them seriously when they talk about good and evil. I'm not holding my breath.

Dylann Roof
Non-Muslim, captured in Shelby, NC.
Image Credit: New York Times

Robert Dear
Non-Muslim, lived in Black Mountain, NC.
Image Credit: NBC News

Take action: Please consider writing a letter to the editor of the Hickory Daily Record (HDR) about this advert. You can submit your letter here. If you are aware of this ad running in any other papers, please leave the details in the comments. If you'd like to send comments to the pastors directly (please be polite and respectful), here's some contact info that I have been able to find so far:

Dave Kistler & Ken Carrico, NC Pastors Network
Web form:
Sam Rohrer, American Pastors Network
ACT for America, Hickory NC chapter
Tom Wallace, Fortress of Faith Ministries
Jerry Gamble, Pastor at Mount Home Baptist in Morganton
Mark Creech, Christian Action League
Twitter: @markcreech
Dave Doster, Pastor at Burke Community Bible Church in Morganton
Jeff Setzer, President at Creation Family Ministries in Hickory
Tony Bunton, Pastor at Yadkin Baptist in Statesville
Robert Setzer, Pastor at Ambassador Baptist in Hudson
Bud Jernigan, Pastor at Mulls Grove Baptist in Morganton
Marty Bess, Grace Baptist in Morganton

Update 2/3: I just found out that this paid advertisement was apparently run in response to this nice piece (except for the bit about evolution) about Duane Muhammad - a long-time personal friend and a Muslim. This is according to the Christian reporter who wrote the article (and the comment below from one of the advertisers' fervent supporters).

Update 2/4: The Christian Action League (one of the advertisers) has now confirmed that their advert was indeed in response to the HDR piece about Duane Muhammad, which was prompted by his participation in the recent interfaith celebration of human rights that I attended with several other members of the Hickory Humanist Alliance in December. They are apparently planning to run the same ad in the Morganton News Herald. For reactions from members of the Catawba Valley Interfaith Council, see the comments section.

My letter to the editor was published in the print-only edition of today's HDR:
I applaud Rev. Walker and Rev. MacDicken for their swift reactions (HDR, 2/1/2016) to the "Understanding Islam" advertisement being run in your paper by some local Christian pastors, ACT for America, the North Carolina Pastors Network, and others. When a paid advertisement (by clergy) must ensure readers that the advertisers (clergy) are not "bigoted, hateful, or intolerant" one is reminded of that famous quote often misattributed to P.T. Barnum about a sucker being born every minute. On the other hand, maybe they are onto something? Have you noticed how the NFL switched from Roman to Arabic numerals for the Superbowl this year? Coincidence?

But seriously, the hubris displayed in the advertisement also reminded me of one of my favorite lines from the Peanuts cartoon:

"[Charles] Schulz was a deeply spiritual man, as evidenced by the many times he quoted the Bible in his [Peanuts] strip. But he had little patience for those who claimed to have all the answers. In a 1976 strip Snoopy is seen writing a book on theology called 'Has It Ever Occurred to You That You Might Be Wrong?' Schulz loved that punch line so much he used it again in 1980 when Linus concluded a Bible class by asking the teacher the same question" (Chicago Tribune, November 14, 2004).

I doubt that the advertisers (or Daesh for that matter) have seriously considered this possibility, and I would submit that this is what we should all fear the most. Ubi dubium ibi libertas!

Duane Muhammad
Image Credit: HDR


  1. You must be a communist. Noam Chomsky is a holocaust denier. The NC Pastors ad was a response to the false assertions of an article run in the Hickory paper written by a moslem. Your assertion that people like Dylann Roof, Robert Dear, Eric Rudolph, Timothy McVeigh did their despicable acts in the name of religion is wrong. Yet, terrorism by moslems in the name of Islam is undeniable. Actually the KKKoran, a supremacist political ideology teaches it's adherents, to rape, pillage and murder. Also, the KKKoran teach mohammadeans that the infidels only have three choices, they will either convert, become a slave or die. The moslem brotherhood terrorist organization is in the U.S. and have infiltrated the highest levels of the government (including the presidency), the education system and the military. The moslem brotherhood has a plan for civilization jihad and the left wing communists (people like yourself) are supporting their plan to take over America and replace the constitution with sharia law. You better wake up before it's too late. You will be one of the first infidels to get your head cut off.

  2. Thank you for posting the emails. I wrote each and everyone involved in purchasing the ad responding to the lies about Islam and thanked them for their courage.

  3. Dear Chaz, Jenner and QT:

    I had my tenth birthday in the Soviet Union. I went to the fourth grade in the Soviet Union. To this day, I have a bust of Lenin on my desk, a matted, framed poster of Lenin hanging on my wall, a Soviet flag (hammer and sickle) hanging at my house, too many celebratory Soviet pins to count, books by Bukharin, Lenin, Trotsky, Marx and Engels - all of which I've read, a Red Army shopka ushanka, officer's hat and overcoat as well as a Pioneer's Neckerchief I received as a child in the Soviet Union.

    I've know SkepticalPoet for more than thirty years. SkepticalPoet is a friend of mine. SkepticalPoet is no Communist. I would know. I am a Communist. At least I've tried to be a good Communist my entire life. I've come up short on that lofty goal, of course. Everyone knows the only true Communist whoever lived was Jesus Christ and no one can be as big a Communist as Jesus.

  4. ACT! for America, one of the sponsors of this ad, has now been added to the Sothern Poverty Law Center's list of anti-Muslim hate groups. A well-deserved recognition!