At “Gather At the River” back in August, a quote was shared from Audre Lorde that resonated with my soul – “There is no such thing as a single issue struggle, because we do not live single issues lives.”
One of the issues most in the news these days is rampant Islamophobia. We hear it from the mouths of politicians. We see it on the news.
Both our church, and myself personally, have been involved in interfaith work for several years. But, let me share with you the specific moment I realized just how important that work is and just how connected the struggle against Islamophobia is to the struggle for LGBT inclusion.
In January at Northaven UMC, we were honored to host a large interfaith event, titled “Standing with Our Muslim Neighbors.” The event was in response to large and angry protests that had taken place the week before, in a Dallas suburb. Hundreds of protestors had gathered at a Muslim event in a Dallas suburb, harassed and intimidated attendees. The Muslim community was shaken. We quickly put together a gathering for the following Sunday afternoon, and spread the word. It was an amazing day. More than 400 people packed Northaven’s sanctuary, many of them Muslim. Fifty clergy and religious leaders from all faiths —Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Atheists— stood together as we read a joint statement of support. As I said, we’ve done interfaith work for some years. But the turnout for this event, the positive press coverage of many faiths standing together to condemn hate, and the hopeful atmosphere among all who attended truly exceeded my expectations.
However, what moved me deeply was something that happened just after the event ended. As I greeted folks at the door, I lost count –it was dozens– of how many Muslims shook my hand vigorously, and told me with great emotion, just how important the day was for them. You could tell they had been genuinely afraid all week. Some of them were nearly in tears. Several of them were literally trembling.
More than a few told me how they didn’t even know there were *any* churches that would support them, given what they heard from the media.
It helped me see, firsthand, the fears Muslims live with each and every day…fears I never personally have to worry about in my daily life as a white Christian hetero-male…fears of being profiled for how they look, dress, speak or worship. And I had an immediate and strong sense of recognition: Their response was virtually identical to the reaction of many LGBT visitors who come to our regular Sunday worship. I’ve lost count of LGBT friends who, in my study, have said, “I didn’t know there was a church like yours.” Or, those who’ve left worship, similarly trembling and in tears because of the welcome and acceptance they have found.
Although I had understood that somehow the issues were related, I visceral experience how they were related, through the eyes of our Muslim neighbors, who reminded me so very much of our LGBT friends. Our dominant culture tends to play “whack a mole” with various groups, trading off who is the “whipping boy” for their fears and angers. It’s misplaced anger of course. But saying that doesn’t matter in the heat of their passion. What can make a difference, is simply accompanying —walking with and standing for— those who are being discriminated against.
We must embrace and support our Muslim siblings for the very same reasons we support ministry with the LGBT community: because God calls us to the margins of our society.
God calls us to see the connections between the various from of discrimination and hate in our society. In fact, in another parallel, during the rally, we used a powerpoint slide of our church’s trademarked slogan —“We Believe in the Separation of Church and Hate.” We created it for use in the LGBT struggle. But I was again struck by how relevant it suddenly was, in an entirely new way. It drew immediate smiles of recognition from our Muslim siblings. One local Imam asked me to send him the picture file, so he could also use it, to show fellow Muslims that there were other Christians ready to stand with them.
Last week, I was in an interfaith meeting of leaders who are planning a series of positive events to counter the on-going Islamophobia happening around the nation, and here locally. Two of the Imams specifically tied the LGBT struggle, the “Black Lives Matter” struggle, and the struggle of immigrants, to their struggle. I was encouraged that they too understand the commonalities and why we should stand together against hate. One final reason our voices are important. They are not only important because of what they say to our neighbor down the street, but also because of what they say to Muslims and the world community. At the meeting last week, one local Imam shared with us that he’d recently been shown some ISIL training videos on the internet. (He was seeking to learn more about ISIL, the way I sometimes have to strain to understand Christian fundamentalists). The ISIL recruitment videos actually used racists and Islamophobic clips from FOX News, interspersed with impassioned pleas for Muslims to “rise up” and fight in the infidels. In other words: There is documented proof that ISIL is using the hard rhetoric of American political and religious fundamentalists, to recruit MORE terrorists to their cause. Right wing pundits, politicians, and preachers are playing right into the hands of ISIL, friends. Those leaders who “otherize” peace-loving Muslim neighbors among us are aiding and abetting the enemy. If not in practice, most definitely in rhetoric.
Therefore, our voices are needed, to provide a counterbalance of love, peace, and hope. The Reconciling movement is filled with those who’ve experienced personal rejection, discrimination, and the inability to worship God as God has called us. We in the Reconciling Movement, then, have common cause with Muslims; whose rights to worship God, and even their right to exist, are being questioned by fear mongers, xenophobes, and political demagogues. Of course, most of you will know that the Reconciling Movement has know this for years now. Our commitment to see the intersections of violence and oppression has led us to support “causes” well beyond the traditional LGBT concerns that started this movement.
We are not single issue people, because God calls us to the intersections of oppression where ever they are in our world today.
He has been Senior Pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas since 2001. During his tenure, church membership has grown almost 30 percent, and a completely new church facility (sanctuary and education building) has been constructed. Northaven is a leading progressive Christian congregation in the Southwest.
Northaven is an eclectic collection of gay and straight families, artists, musicians, theater folks, academic theologians, lawyers and judges (go figure), socially conscious community activists, people who don’t “check their brain at the door,” and a wide array of others who either see it as their “last chance” inside the “institutional church,” or their first trip back in decades.
Eric is an avid blogger and published author.
Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest. He’s an engaging live performer whose first CD was released in 2000. His songs have won honorable mention in both the Billboard and Great American song contests; and he’s been a finalist in the 5th Street Festival and South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competitions.
Eric is also a leader of Connections, a unique band comprised of United Methodist clergy and layfolk from throughout North Texas. Connections performs “cover shows” of artists like Dan Fogelberg, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and others. Their shows draw crowds of between 300 and 1,000 fans, and they have raised more than $240,000 dollars for worthy charities.
Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He’s a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons.
His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named “best judge” by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County. At the State District Judge level, she is sadly the only Latina currently serving among dozens of judges. She was re-elected for a fourth term in 2014.
They have the world’s best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy.
Latest posts by Rev. Eric Folkerth (see all)
- Why the Reconciling movement must speak out against Islamaphobia - December 9, 2015