Duke University and Franklin Graham

Having just learned of Duke University’s cowardly and ill-considered decision to rescind its invitation to its Muslim student group to broadcast the Friday call to prayer from its chapeltower, and especially after reading Franklin Graham’s foolish comments, I wish I could tell you that these people are not true Christians. Unfortunately, I cannot. To be sure, their actions in no way embody the teachings of Jesus or follow from our doctrines. No, this is not what being a Christian means.

A minaret in Fez, Morocco, as seen from the roof of the building where my wife and I lived two summers ago.

A minaret in Fez, Morocco, as seen from a rooftop. My wife and I lived in Fez two summers ago. The experience of the adhan from dozens of mosques echoing all over the old city is something I will treasure all my days.

But failing to be a good Christian is what Christianity means. I have no words to tell you how furious I am with Graham and the Duke leadership (if leadership we care to call it), but for better or worse, I cannot distance myself from them on the grounds that they culpably fail to do what I also culpably fail to do, namely, to live as a follower of Jesus. And if I were to try to excuse myself by saying that I at least would not sin in this particular way, I would bring judgment on myself for all of the gross and subtle ways that I do exercise and reinforce the privilege that my social location affords me, and find my consolation in the same texts and symbols that enable Franklin Graham to say the awful things he says and the same institutions that wish to appear as inclusive and courageous as possible while never endangering the status quo. Acts of individual members of a community are not acts of the whole community, but nor can I presume to say who is and who is not a member of my community. These men and women are my brothers and sisters in Christ. They, like me, “sin and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace.”

As someone who at one point in my life was edified by some of Franklin Graham’s father’s writings and who still has a strong affinity for the United Methodist Church even though I am no longer a member of it, I’m frankly embarrassed by these actions, and I would like to unload all of my fury on you, poor unsuspecting surfer of the internet. But my embarrassment is not important. As a Christian, what is important to me is not how I feel about what my co-religionists do, but how what they or I do increases or mitigates the suffering of the oppressed. My only legitimate concern is to lift up Jesus, and Jesus has made it quite clear that what is done unto the least of his brothers and sisters is done unto him.

And so, my Muslim brothers and sisters (especially in the United States), I am sorry. My community has failed Christ and hurt you in ways in which I am complicit. I hope for his forgiveness and yours.