Choosing Community Over Tribe This Holy Season
Amar Peterman is a graduate student at Princeton Theological Seminary, focusing his research on American religious history. He also is a Fellow at Neighborly Faith and Research Intern to Asma Uddin, studying the relationship between evangelicals and Muslims in the United States and the future of religious pluralism. Amar holds a BA in Theology from Moody Bible Institute. You can follow his work on his website and on Twitter: @amarpeterman.
This tweet by Paul Sperry garnered national attention after it was retweeted by President Donald Trump just two days after Christians across America celebrated Easter during the national stay-at-home order. The President’s retweet unfortunately illustrates how something catastrophic as a global pandemic cannot seem to bring together opposing ideologies. While both Christians and Muslims will experience their respective Holy Seasons (Eastertide and Ramadan) in an unprecedented way this year, too many leaders have encouraged Americans to retreat to their tribe, rather than work towards a common good.
These events correspond with current research that suggests white evangelicals who align closely with Christian nationalism are more likely to view Christians as the most persecuted religion in America, even more than Muslims and other minority traditions. This narrative also fuels a tribal warfare based on the perception that Muslims align with Democrats and Christians align with Republicans. This perception of Christians and Muslims, however, is far too over-simplified.
As an evangelical, I recognize many of these faults within my own tradition. Yet, I believe the tribalistic, nationalist voice of Evangelicalism often speaks louder than those who are practicing a different evangelicalism; one that welcomes religious pluralism and interfaith dialogue and is centered around Jesus’ commandment to “love thy neighbor.”
Kevin Singer, Co-Director of Neighborly Faith, offers an example of this in an article for Religion News Service titled “How Evangelicals can Support Muslims this Ramadan.” In this article, Singer recognizes the common anti-Muslim trends in Evangelicalism and suggests three ways in which evangelicals can begin to support their Muslim neighbors during Ramadan. Through the month of March, Neighborly Faith has also hosted a series of webinars bringing together Christian and Muslim leaders such as Omar Suleiman, Micah Fries, Bob Roberts Jr., and Shadi Hamid to share how each faith community has sought to approach both Easter and Ramadan and how we may support one another through a shared struggle.
Muslim author, scholar and lawyer Asma Uddin has embodied a similar practice at a legislative level, advocating for the religious freedom of numerous traditions including Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Catholics, and Evangelicals. Uddin has written prolifically on the importance of allowing religious communities to “perform the vital function of promoting civic virtue, providing for the less fortunate, and nurturing strong families and communities.” In her book When Islam is not a Religion, Uddin explains this from the perspective of an American Muslim. Her recent scholarship reflects an important argument in the book: “the claim ‘Islam is not a religion’ has implications for all religious believers and all Americans”. Uddin’s recent writing has focused on helping religious communities understand the “other” as human, one with dignity and worth and a right to practice their faith. Uddin writes, “Unless we preserve freedom for everyone, we fail to protect it for anyone.”
Since February, Christians have journeyed through Lent, celebrated Easter from their homes, and now continue to celebrate Eastertide through Zoom calls and Facebook Live. Muslims also have sought to navigate the deeply communal season of Ramadan through the same means. For both traditions, there is great sadness and deep grief that accompanies the loss of community in a season centered around gathering and shared faith. Singer and Uddin advocate in two different spaces, yet we may learn from both of them this Holy Season. From within their respective faiths, they find the common values of love, generosity and hospitality. Even more, they choose diverse community over narrow tribalism and exemplify how caring for one another is not a betrayal of their faith traditions, but an even greater enactment.