By Bart Barber
Pastor at First Baptist Church, Farmersville
These are turbulent days in Farmersville. Angry voices have rung out of some of our meetings. Our friends—our friends!—hunker down and avoid Facebook to keep their heads low during the next salvo. Dare I opine that our reaction to a proposed cemetery has changed our town more than the cemetery ever could?
Welcome to friendly Farmersville, home of the Fighting Farmers.
And I know that I am partly to blame. I am a passionate advocate of religious liberty. Anywhere I could build a church, I believe Muslims should be able to build a mosque. Some of what I have written about this topic in the past several days has been forceful, perhaps even strident. The time has come for peacemakers to step up and lead our community and for angry voices to give way to friendlier ones. For those sentences I’ve written that fell short of that goal, I publicly apologize, and I call us all to a better way.
We can acknowledge one another’s concerns. Although Hindus are the religious persecutors in India, Buddhists are the religious persecutors in Sri Lanka, and Christians (Russian Orthodox) are the persecutors in Russia and Ukraine, it is Muslim violence that just occurred a few weeks ago down the road in Garland. Our neighbors’ fears in that regard are not irrational. Some of our fellow Farmersville citizens were on the front lines that night, and we should treat with respect those who articulate these concerns.
On the other hand, those of us also deserve to be heard who believe that a city with enough power to run Muslims out of town will eventually be a bad thing for us all. You don’t have to be a student of history or politics or Christian theology to know that fearful people sometimes hand themselves over to tyranny. Anyone who has watched Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith knows that. The First Amendment is not the Bible and I do not believe that it is inerrant, but the environment of religious liberty that it has created has benefitted all Americans and has been the most fertile soil for the spread of the gospel in recent Christian history. I believe this way of religious liberty is worth celebrating and worth saving. It is not only the American way; I am convinced that it is the most Christian way.
We can treat Muslims fairly. We can judge them by the same standard by which we want to be judged. I don’t want to be judged for what Slobodan Milošević did in the name of Christianity; therefore, I am not going to judge a Muslim in Farmersville for what Osama bin Laden did in New York City or what other Muslims did in Dearborn, Michigan. My motivation is simple and selfish: Muslims who know that I am misrepresenting them will not listen when I share the gospel with them. If you are not a follower of Jesus Christ, perhaps you can find your motivation in a simple commitment to fairness and justice.
We can go one step further. Those of us who are not comfortable with the tone that has emerged in Farmersville can decide right now to stand up and assert ourselves. We can do so by countering fearful words with hopeful ones, suspicious words with trusting ones, and angry words with friendly ones. Many need to make apologies. Those of you who follow Jesus Christ ought to lead the way.