At the Oklahoma State Capitol on Tuesday, a few lawmakers met to “study” whether radical Islam has infiltrated the state. Rep. John Bennett, R-Sallisaw, accused local Muslim leaders of participating in terrorist activities, “The enemy must be stopped. We're going to be called bigots, and racists, and Islamophobes and a whole host of other things by the media after this is over. We're going to be called that by terrorists organizations like CAIR that is here today, but you know that is a small price to pay to put our foot to the tail end of these terrorists and these anti-American groups in the name of freedom” (NewsOK, 10/26/2016).
While Bennett stated his purpose for the meeting, he also revealed his objective, “We're going to do all we can to kick these terrorist organizations out of the state of Oklahoma” (Ibid.) When Rep. Bennett refers to “terrorists organization” he is referring to my good friends, Imam Imad Enchassi and Adam Soltani. Enchassi is the local Senior Imam at The Islamic Center of Greater Oklahoma City. Soltani is the Executive Director of CAIR-OK (Council on American-Islamic Relations). Without any credible evidence by state or federal law enforcement officials, Bennett and his associates are attempting to create unsubstantiated and unfounded accusations against peaceful Americans whose faith happens to differ from his.
There are numerous reasons why this line of legislative harassment is unacceptable. As a Christian minister, I find the actions by Bennett and other legislators as egregiously opposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. During Jesus life and ministry, he engaged and welcomed the strangers among his people, even when his people felt differently about them. From the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-42) to healing the servant of a Roman Centurion (Matthew 8:5-13), Jesus practiced what he preached. And speaking of preaching, he had these words to say,
“for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
As a Baptist minister, I am absolutely terrified local magistrates are once again using faith as a tool for persecution and harassment. In the 17th Century, Baptists were persecuted, imprisoned, and publicly whipped for advocating a faith different from that of the majority. This kind of religious persecution prompted Roger Williams to declare in 1644, “An enforced uniformity of religion throughout a nation or civil state, confounds the civil and religious, denies the principles of Christianity and civility, and that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh” (brucegourley.com).
In that same year, Massachusetts “outlawed” being a Baptist altogether, declaring them to be a danger to the state, “some whereof (as others before them) denied the ordinance of the magistracy…bring guilt upon us, infection and trouble to our churches, and hazard to the whole commonwealth” (Leonard, Baptist Ways, 78). The New England magistrates felt as though Baptists were a terror in their own right, causing chaos and mayhem among their commonwealth. In my opinion, there is no difference between what 17th Century Puritan magistrates were doing and what Rep. Bennett is doing today.
Finally, as an American, I am appalled at this line of false inquiry and inquisition. Revolutionary Baptist Pastor, John Leland, expressed the sentiments of a liberal democracy when he declared, “The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever. … Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians” (brucegourley.com).
The charade that took place at the Oklahoma Capitol on Tuesday should make every American’s blood boil. There is nothing more un-American than elected public officials making unsubstantiated accusations against law abiding and peaceful citizens of a different faith. This line of inquiry and investigation must cease immediately. If allowed to continue, the echoes of a new McCarthyism will grow louder over time.
Therefore, as a Christian and Baptist minister, I stand beside my Muslim brothers and sisters because I truly believe this is what Jesus would do. As an American citizen, I stand beside you because I still believe that the U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land for every citizen, not just the powerful elite. In closing, to my Muslim brothers and sisters, I, for one, do not consider you an enemy, but a friend.