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Duke Gives In
Amidst all the recent examples of poorly executed Islam, that Duke University extended an olive branch by planning to allow Muslim students to broadcast a call to prayer (“adhan”) from their bell tower seemed like a charitable, truly Christian move that would foster unity.
It was. Too bad so many people who profess to be Christians don’t seem to understand what it means to actually be one.
After an uproar from southern Protestants, led by Billy Graham’s son Franklin, Duke decided not only to cancel the bell tower plan but are now also moving a Muslim prayer group from their chapel to a space outside of it.
Frankly, this sends a bad message.
I can understand, in a way at least, why they cancelled the bell tower plan. In the words of their official press release, “…it was clear that what was conceived as an effort to unify was not having the intended effect.” If they were trying to foster unity and they instead created division, the entire point of the endeavor is lost. Duke also cited security concerns as a reason for the cancellation.
However, more than ever Christians need to champion the authentic practice of Islam. Muslims are terrorizing Christians all over the world, and this is something that is not addressed nearly enough by the mainstream media, but this is not all there is to Islam. Students choosing to get their education from a Christian University and practicing prayer should not only be championed but it should be celebrated.
It's worth noting that Duke also cited security concerns as a reason for the cancellation. Aside from seeming like a rationalization for their caving, that they were getting threats only proves that there are more people out there who think like Graham does. They even take it a step further by threatening violence. This makes Duke look a little less culpable but makes Christianity look even worse.
Misguided Franklin Graham does not speak for Christianity
Regardless, Duke’s move is obviously more about caving to a minority of misguided southern Protestants than it is a desire to not create division. I specifically labeled these people southern Protestants for a reason: they don’t represent Christianity. Not all Christians feel this way and not all Christians were creating an uproar. It was a very specific group.
As mentioned, criticism of the event was largely organized by Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son and outspoken traditional southern Protestant. He promoted the hashtag #BoycottDuke all over social media. The comments from his Facebook page are misguided and disturbing:
As Christianity is being excluded from the public square and followers of Islam are raping, butchering, and beheading Christians, Jews, and anyone who doesn’t submit to their Sharia Islamic law, Duke is promoting this in the name of religious pluralism.
His initial complaining about “Christianity being excluded from the public square” is the sort of pointless whining that makes people want Christianity to be excluded from the public square. Faith is indeed being pushed out of public life in important ways – in addition to most other serious things in life – but this has nothing to do with the Duke situation. It is a legitimate issue, but it doesn’t make any sense to bring it up in this context. Doing so only makes Christianity look worse (and stupider) than it often already does.
His point about Duke’s decision being in the name of religious pluralism is also incorrect. Religious pluralism is the attempt to say that all religions are equally true (or untrue). While the validity of religious pluralism is an interesting topic to discuss, it has nothing to do with Duke allowing Muslims to pray in their bell tower, as if doing so is the university saying that Islam is as true as Christianity is. Once again, regardless of whether you think that’s true or not or should be emphasized, the two aren’t related.
More importantly, there is no logical connection between “Christianity being excluded from the public square,” “followers of Islam raping, butchering, and beheading Christians,” and Duke allowing Muslims to pray in their bell tower. The first has nothing at all to do with the other two. The second, a sad, intentionally crude description of very serious world events meant to stir an emotional response, has nothing to do with what the Muslims at Duke desired to express. That Graham, an educated man, is using this flawed logic to promote his niche version of Christianity is sad.
A different Christian perspective
It needs to be emphasized that he does not speak for the majority of Christians. While I can’t speak for them either, I can speak from my understanding as (what I like to consider, at least) a moderate Catholic.
Allowing Muslims to broadcast a prayer in the bell tower at Duke is not at all contrary to Christianity and there is no reason to cause an uproar about it. Indeed, it shows a Christian attitude of reaching out and attempting to unify that is more important now than it’s ever been. As I said, at a time when some Muslims are using their religion to justify terrible things, it only makes sense to champion the better ways that they’re practicing their faith among us.
Seeing Muslims desiring to broadcast a prayer in the Duke bell tower as a bad thing and rallying against it are backwards from the perspective of loving Christian outreach. Some Christians have moved significantly backwards since St. Francis made a pilgrimage to Islamic sultan Malik al-Kamil with a message of peace during the Crusades.
A word on the response to Graham
Almost as bad as Graham’s rallying against Duke are the reaction from people who disagree with him. Instead of pointing out his logical inconsistencies, and rallying against what he is standing for, those who are (understandably) disgusted at him are taking the low road and resorting to unnecessary hatred and name calling. They call him a bigot. They say he hates Islam. And those are some of the nicer things people are saying.
For all the things he is, Franklin Graham is not a bigot. He doesn’t hate Islam. He’s an intelligent man and a dedicated man of faith. He's simply misguided and incorrect in some of what he believes and in what he is doing in regards to the Duke controversy. There is no reason to overstate what he is or believe that he is a bad person or a bigot just because he believes a few things that don’t seem to make any sense or are detrimental.
I’ve been saying this for years: how does childish name calling help anything? How long will it take for people to get out of elementary school and not find the need to verbally abuse (bully!) people they disagree with? What good does it do? It releases some endorphins, sure, and makes the choir you’re preaching to squeal with joy, but it does nothing constructive and a whole lot that is destructive. I don’t understand why people can’t just act like adults and take people for what they are instead of automatically acting like children and thus fostering more division and hatred.
Narrow is the way
An increasingly sizeable amount of Muslims across the world are doing some terrible things. There is no questioning that. We need to speak out against these things while also reaching out to them, especially those who are practicing their faith well.
In an unprecedented move of peace and unity, Duke was going to allow Muslims to broadcast prayer in their bell tower. It was a wonderful idea. That people who profess to be Christian could be against it is baffling and destructive to Christianity and efforts at better interfaith relations.
Erik Ritland is a writer and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. His blog and podcast Rambling On features commentary on music, sports, culture, and more. He is also the Lead Staff Writer for Minnesota culture blog Curious North.