All Saints Church, an Episcopal church in Pasadena, Calif., is moving forward with its decision to host a Muslim conference sponsored by the Muslim Public Affairs Council despite an outpouring of hate mail about a church hosting a Muslim event.
“This is a teachable moment,” said the Rev. Susan Russell, “to stand against ignorance and bigotry.” The church held a press conference to note this “historic moment” for America’s religious pluralism and interfaith peacemaking.
It’s also a “teachable moment” in terms of shining a light on how the “fear-mongers,” that is, the Islamophobia network in the United States, works to try to disrupt and discredit strong interfaith work among religious groups at the grassroots.
All Saints Pasadena, in deciding to go ahead with this important conference, is modeling a way forward for many churches that engage in serious interfaith work and what they may have to do in the future: stand up against an Islamophobia machine.
The controversy apparently started when the D.C. based Institute on Religion and Democracy posted an article on their blog, “California Church to Become Site of Islamist Convention.”Ironically enough, this blog’s title is “Juicy Ecumenism,” though apparently that ecumenical spirit does not extend to the kind of interfaith mission espoused by All Saints Pasadena.
What is crucial to realize is that this IRD article was originally published at David Horowitz’s Front Page Magazine.
David Horowitz and his work in promoting Islamophobia are discussed in a Center for American Progress report, “Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America” as part of a “small, tightly networked group of misinformation experts.” What are called “single-minded Islamophobia groups” such as Pam Geller’s “Stop Islamization of America” and Horowitz’s “Freedom Center” are analyzed in this ground-breaking report as part of this network.
This is how Islamophobia is churned up in the United States, and it takes the principled witness of spiritually clear faith-based organizations and churches such as All Saints Pasadena to pursue interfaith mission even in the face of such hateful push back. “All Saints Rev. Ed Bacon described the emails his congregation received as “some of the most vile, mean-spirited emails I’ve ever read in my life.”
Principled spiritual witness has been a consistent emphasis in the All Saints Pasadena ministry. I should note that I became an “associate member” of All Saints, despite living and worshipping in Chicago, to demonstrate my appreciation for this church’s witness against the Iraq War.
On Oct. 31, 2004, retired rector the Rev. George Regas, preached a sermon called “If Jesus Debated Senator Kerry and President Bush.”. In 2005, the Internal Revenue Service launched an investigation on the church’s tax-exempt status, using this sermon as the basis.
In 2007, the IRS ended the investigation without challenging the church’s tax-exempt status.
All Saints Church has demanded an apology from the IRS.
Strong interfaith work that builds the bonds of trust among religions is the way forward not only for the future of a healthy and dynamic religious pluralism in the United States, but also for the world.
Where “Fear” is incorporated, so “Love” can be incorporated. In such a struggle, love will, in fact, triumph. As Bishop Desmond Tutu has said, “Good is stronger than evil, love is stronger than hate, light is stronger than darkness, life is stronger than death.”
Former president of Chicago Theological Seminary (1998-2008), the Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is professor of theology at Chicago Theological Seminary and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress .