This blog does not write reactionary pieces to the trending political comments or ridiculous statements made by politicians–especially as we enter an election year. However, one statement has attracted a particular kind of response by Christians, one that I think is informed by history and online antics, and it’s important to draw it out.
The Call: identify Muslims
Recently several politicians and aspirants made statements that call to identify, track, and separate Muslims from the American populace:
- A particular Republican 2016 presidential candidate called for a national database to be created of all Muslims living in America. Another one was surprised one didn’t already exist.
- Another compared being a peaceful Muslim to being a peaceful member of the Nazi party.
- Finally, a mayor in Virginia expressed a desire to round up Muslims like they did to the Japanese-Americans in World War 2.
And yet one wonders if such a thing could happen: if fear rules the day, if we forget our history, and if politicians play to our base fears of “the other,” could such a thing happen?
And if it does, how can Christians respond?
The Response: I Am Spartacus
In the 1960 movie Spartacus, Kirk Douglas plays the title character who leads other slaves in rebellion against their Roman masters. The rebellion is ultimately defeated, and the end of the movie, the Roman general offers to spare the slaves’ lives if they identify and hand over their leader Spartacus to be crucified. Douglas stands up to identify himself, but the two slaves to his side stand up with him and say “I am Spartacus.” Dozens more stand until the entire mass of former slaves is standing and saying “I am Spartacus.” The Roman general has no choice but to crucify the many, because they refused to give up the one. Watch the scene on Youtube.
In the mid-2000s, this iconic moment also spawned an internet chatroom phenomenon. A person will jump onto a chat channel or message board and say “I am Spartacus” and other internet-meme-savvy people will repeat the line and fill the channel for a time.
Maybe such an action could work today. I’ve seen on social media that the call to identify and separate Muslims has spawned many Christians to pledge that they will identify themselves as Muslims too. Despite their faith, despite the possible stigma of being labeled, they have pledged to be named as a Muslim for any database in the future, and to waste government surveillance time on watching them.
While a theoretical effort, I think it’s a powerful one as faith is not defined by color of skin or ethnicity; therefore, any such efforts to compartmentalize the American public can be subverted by Christians as unbecoming of our country’s values.
Would you say “I am Muslim” when offered a chance to separate Muslims from society?
The Need for Relationship
Better than labeling one’s self on a theoretical future database is to create relationships now that can be sustained no matter what lies ahead.
United Methodist Bishop Roy Sono (retired) remembers that when his family was identified and interred in the Japanese internment camps, another Christian helped folks like him out:
Clergy and congregations can develop personal relationships with those who are vulnerable to hateful acts, and be conspicuous in standing with them. Japanese Americans have never forgotten the Rev. Melvin Wheatley (who later became a United Methodist bishop) and his spouse, Lucile, along with other members of the First United Methodist Church in Fresno, temporarily taking title to homes owned by Japanese Americans and moving into them to protect those homes from arsonists. The Japanese Americans have also never forgotten Wheatley visiting them in camps.
Such an action was only possible by a previous relationship.
My hope is that Christians can form more relationships with Muslims in their community, so that they can support and stand with one another no matter what violence may be in the future. And if the future is filled with hope and tolerance, then there’s a more solid basis for it.