Profiles in Leadership

For sixteen years, presidents and leaders of both parties were clear that we did not blame all Muslims for the actions of a fringe conspiracy that cloaked itself with a holy scripture.

Based on Sermon January 29, 2017

Sent out with the title “This Moment in our Nation”

On Sept 11, 2001, 19 men hijacked planes and used them to kill over 3,000 people. They represented a group calling themselves al-Qaeda. They were terrorists who used a religion to justify their hate.

For sixteen years, presidents and the whole of America’s political leadership were clear that we did not blame all Muslims for the actions of a fringe conspiracy that cloaked itself with a holy scripture. Our President at the time, George Bush, said that this group had hijacked a great religion.  A religion of peace.

For sixteen years, eight years of a Republican president, eight years of a Democratic president, America followed a course of pursuing terrorists and also deepening ties with ALL countries for allies in this fight.  This is not romanticized naïveté.  It is basic logic that if we wanted to pursue and defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan, for example, that we had to work with the Afghani people.  This is not mushy heads and bleeding hearts.  This is a bipartisan, pragmatic policy that sought to make America safe at home and Americans safe around the world.

Our fight is not with Islam. That kind of reductive thinking is what the terrorists do.  They attack civilians because they see all of Europe and all of the Western world as their enemy, no matter how young, no matter how old.  We cannot react impulsively by attacking anyone who has the faith the terrorists CLAIM to have.  That is what the terrorists want, to draw us in, to tie us down in a quagmire that will deplete our resources, sap our will and force us to leave behind our principles, our morals, to abandon our Constitution, our Bill of Rights.  They want to see us brought into a controversial and deceptively simple campaign.

In 2008, a woman at a town hall said she was afraid of Sen. Barack Obama because he was a Muslim.  The Republican nominee, his fellow Senator, John McCain, said, “No.”  He rejected the ugly smear campaign publicly, unequivocally.

In that election, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who wore his country’s uniform for 34 years from Vietnam to the first Iraq War, and served in the administrations of Nixon, Reagan Bush 41 and Bush 43, spoke about this:

“I’m also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say, and it is permitted to be said.  Such things as ‘Well you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.’  Well the correct answer is ‘He is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian, he’s always been a Christian.’  “But the really right answer is ‘What if he is?  Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?’  The answer is ‘No.  That’s not America.’  Is there something wrong with some 7-year old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she can be president?  Yet I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion he’s a Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists.  This is not the way we should be doing it in America.”

“I feel strongly,” Secretary Powell continued, “about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine.  It was a photo-essay about troops who were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery and she had her head on the headstone of her son’s grave.  And as the picture focused in you can see the writing on the headstone.  And it gave his awards, Purple Heart, Bronze Star, showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death.  He was 20 years old.  And then at the very top of the headstone, it didn’t have a Christian cross, it didn’t have a Star of David. It had a crescent and a star of the Islamic faith.  And his name was Karim Rashad Sultan Khan.  And he was an American, he was born in New Jersey, he was 14 at the time of 9/11 and he waited until he can go serve his country and he gave his life.”

That was the bipartisan message.  A message of leadership.  Leadership that rejected whatever political points could be gained.  Leadership that would not pander to prejudice.  Then, in 2016, we heard people claiming that thousands of Muslims were dancing in the streets on Sept 11 in NJ.  More lies.  More trash.

Today’s gospel reading (Luke 6) shows us how some people use religion to catch people making mistakes.  Some people use religion to punish and expel.  God’s rules are not for keeping people out.  God’s commandments are not for excluding people, not creating a privileged priesthood or a holy caste.  In today’s gospel we hear how the Sabbath law can be used to judge and condemn.  The Sabbath laws were not for excluding people. They were just the opposite.  The Sabbath commandment says, if anyone gets a day off, everyone gets a day off, even aliens, slaves and animals.

Exodus 20:8-10
“Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.”

The suggestion that the government should target Muslims was first mentioned in December 2015.  Bishop Elizabeth Eaton wrote a letter that read in part:
“…In our love for you, our Muslim neighbors, we are distressed by the ways in which you are being forced to bear the fears held by many in our nation.  Therefore, we renew our commitment to find even more effective ways to protect and defend you from words and actions that assault your safety and well being.
We believe God calls us to resist what is divisive, discriminatory, … and we want you to look to us as allies and friends….”

On Friday, Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton added her signature to an interfaith letter supporting refugee resettlement.  Bishop Eaton joins more than 2,000 religious leaders of varied faith traditions with a shared call, “to love our neighbor, accompany the vulnerable, and welcome the sojourner.”

Today’s gospel, today’s good news, could not have been more timely. Indeed the core of the gospel message is concern for those excluded, those treated as something less.  Jesus came to proclaim good news for the poor, release to the captives.  He spoke for those who were excluded. He lived as one who was among those who were kept down and was executed for speaking about another way.

Post Script May 2017

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) – Muslim relations
Our Lutheran-Muslim relations have taken two forms in recent months: rapid response to anti-Muslim bigotry and continued engagement in long- term relationship-building, education, dialogue, and cooperation for the common good.
We are working in partnership with the Islamic Society of North America on church-mosque pilot projects in three synods: Southeastern Pennsylvania, Southwestern Washington, and Southeast Michigan. Thanks to Bishop Donald Kreiss, Bishop Rick Jaech, and Bishop Clarie Burkat for leading. The hope is that by taking these steps and expanding out to include other existing and new initiatives across this church, we will build out stronger local relations across the country.
We are also partnering with the Shoulder to Shoulder Campaign to respond to increased incidents of anti-Muslim bigotry over the past year and to concerns about anti-Muslim policies, including the recent and anticipated executive orders. 

Shoulder to Shoulder is a coalition of 34 religious denominations and organizations committed to standing with American Muslims to uphold American values.  We have participated in statements, press conference, events and strategic planning sessions. 

February 6 clergy letter on Executive Order halting Refugees.  

Bishop William Gafkjen, representing the as chair of the Conference of Bishops, gave a statement at the Nov. 18 press conference in Washington, D.C.: Learn more at

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