IN THEORY:

The Los Angeles Times recently reported that a national coalition of Jewish and Muslim leaders is setting up events across the country to educate each group about the other’s faith and to fight what it perceives as fear and prejudice directed at both Judaism and Islam.

Do you believe other groups — religious or not — have any misperceptions about your religion, and if so, what can we do to change those perceptions?

If I had to classify my faith, I suppose I’d call it “conservative, evangelical Christianity.” And I do believe that at least two misperceptions have risen in the minds of many who have just read those words.

We believe that God is holy. But we also believe that His love for us is unparalleled. Because He made us in His image, He has the right to require us to conform to His holy standards. In the Bible, He clearly defines what these are. And because He is good, we believe that biblical moral standards are universally good for all men and nations. We are not “bigots” for holding such beliefs. Nor does this contradict our belief in God’s love. Time and again, history has proved that unholiness leads to physical, emotional and spiritual unhealthiness. So it’s not loving to “tolerate” unholy behavior.

Neither do (clear-thinking) Christians claim moral perfection, which I think is another common misperception. Paul spoke for all who have a correct view of themselves: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.” To claim moral perfection is to deny the basic tenet of our faith, that we all need a Savior, Jesus Christ, to deliver us from the just penalty of our unholy deeds.

I believe the onus is mostly on Christians to tear down these misperceptions. And we’ll do it if we quit compromising morally and doctrinally with the world, and if we begin to show the love of Christ in tangible ways to everyone around us.

PASTOR JON BARTA

Valley Baptist Church

It is no surprise that American Muslims do experience misperceptions and fear-mongering toward their religion. Islamophobia is a term that refers to prejudice or discrimination against Islam or Muslims.

We all witnessed Islamophobia in the historic 2008 elections. How many times during the campaign was the mere idea that President-elect Barack Obama may be a closet Muslim used as a campaign smear against him? There was a multitude of direct accusations and insinuations that he might be associated with terrorists because of some association or interaction with Muslims in his past. As Gen. Colin Powell so aptly expressed on “Meet the Press,” the real point is: So what if Obama is a Muslim? As with any other citizen, Muslim Americans have every right to aspire to the presidency.

The unfortunate point is that this tactic had political influence, because a Muslim holding a high political office is not fully accepted due to Islamophobia.

So what are some ways to correct the misperceptions about Islam? Be aware that Islamophobia is prevalent. There are many organizations and career professionals dedicated to disseminating misinformation about Islam.

Second, learn about Islam through personal contacts with your Muslim friends and neighbors. Through these personal connections, you can get your questions on Islam answered by someone you know. They can relate their personal experiences as practicing Muslims and can also refer you to authentic books and authors on Islamic topics. If you search the Internet, libraries and bookstores, you can easily distinguish the Islamophobic writings from those of genuinely practicing Muslims. An extension of this idea is to visit a local mosque or contact an Islamic organization.

Third, take a personal stance against Islamophobia and all forms of discrimination. Powell was exemplary when he took a stand against some members of the Republican Party and their Islamophobic campaign tactics. I felt very uplifted when my wife and I recited a personal pledge against anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in Temple Beth Shir Sholom in Santa Monica last month. This was part of the national campaign to “twin” mosques and synagogues through interfaith services.

Last but certainly not least are interfaith activities. It’s very special when different religions meet in good faith for the sole purpose of mutual understanding through peaceful dialogue and community service. The interfaith activities are moving beyond dialogue and now include working together for humanitarian causes. I believe this represents a holistic approach to a lasting peace among religious communities in America.

LEVENT AKBARUT

Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge

Misperceptions about Judaism abound, which is why I feel that part of my responsibility as a rabbi is to educate people and help them gain an accurate understanding of the basic tenets of Judaism. Very often we see that it takes an unfortunate incident or bigoted act for the voices of the clergy to be heard. Therefore, I think it’s wise for us to take a proactive approach, reaching out to positively educate others regarding the teachings of our respective religions.

This particular gathering of the Jews and Muslims, organized to increase understanding between the two faiths, is really a great idea, and I wholeheartedly support it. Unfortunately, the problem does not lie with the majority of us who are willing to sit down and engage in friendly dialogue. These groups are in good shape. The real “elephant in the room” that worries me is the extremists who refuse to participate in discussion.

What is being done to neutralize those dangerous elements? This is one major question that I, like many other Jewish and Christian leaders across the world, wonder about. This past week, we were all horrified as 10 young Muslims terrorized Mumbai for 64 hours and committed the most heinous crimes against innocent victims. There is no grievance, political, religious or otherwise, that can ever justify such atrocities.

It is high time for the responsible leadership of the Muslim faith to answer the question of violent extremism in their ranks. It is the Imams who should be leading the condemnation of radical jihad. We need to hear from them in clear, unequivocal terms that acts of terror cannot be cloaked in the mantle of righteousness. We need to know what is being done to ensure that ghastly events like the massacre in Mumbai never happen again.

RABBI SIMCHA BACKMAN

Chabad Jewish Center

There’s no doubt that misperceptions abound regarding Christianity. Most folks can’t tell the difference between a Billy Graham and a billy goat. They see crooked televangelists on religious TV and fail to recognize the similarity with secular hawkers on the other channels. Somehow it’s easier stereotyping Christians as “sheep” than it is to look in the mirror.

We’re often accused of being bigots because we believe in unpopular values. We’re “holier-than-thou” when we call sin “sin,” as though we don’t recognize our own, but we do; we just continue to agree with God.

When we parrot Jesus’ claim that He is the only way (John 14:6), we’re belittled as “intolerant” to other ways, and yet who would think it narrow-minded to escape drowning by grabbing hold of the only available life preserver?

We’re called “hypocrites” by those who can’t be called such since they have no divine rule from which to falter. It’s only those who try and stumble that have rocks of ridicule thrown at them from standardless bystanders.

And what about “that other church” down the road that doesn’t believe in any of this sin stuff? They’re happy just reciting poetry and listening briefly to “Deep Thoughts” before retiring to their transgender, pagan, addiction-affirmation potluck in the vestibule. Why can’t the rest of Christianity cease its Bible-thumping and be more like that?

If you want to know what “Christians” believe, read our playbook. We aren’t born Christians; we’re born again as Christians. If people would start getting their information from the primary source, they’d find that their problem is less with us and more with God. How do we change misperceptions? Like this. But then, Christianity may be perceived as even less agreeable to those who most need the Christmas Savior. After all, their first perception of Him resulted in His crucifixion.

THE REV. BRYAN GRIEM

Montrose Community Church

I believe people have misconceptions about anything for which they lack knowledge. Add to that the normal mysteries that are assigned to religion and compound it with the ethnic twist that is part of my tradition and yes, people conjure up erroneous concepts that eventually lead to misunderstanding. I get a taste of this all the time. You’d be surprised at all the questions that come up after I define myself as a member of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Of course we always welcome those questions. It is through education that we dispel ignorance. But in the case of Christianity, Christ points us to a higher means of education. He says, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35NIV) And we would be best served by following this message: “Love one another.”

More than conferences, exhibits and symposiums, if we could live out the tenants that we preach, we would find a much quicker learning curve by those outside the faith. We wouldn’t have problems with false perceptions. We’d understand that the bottom line to all religion is our ability to live together in peace.

FR. VAZKEN MOVSESIAN

In His Shoes Mission

Armenian Church Youth Ministries


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