I am not Charlie. I am not AFDI. I am not a Shooter.

In the wake of a shooting last night, at an anti-Islamic event that took place in Garland, I am drawn to this section of the powerful Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi:

RLFOA“O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

What’s tragic is that everyone involved in these events seems to miss the wisdom and spirit of the prayer. “Cartoons” were at the heart of this “American Freedom Defense Initiative” (AFDI) event. And this morning, everybody seems to be speaking cartoonishly of everyone else. This morning, no doubt, the rhetoric is burning hot all across the internet and cable news (I call it “The Moral Outrage Machine”). But let me make a few, short observations, with the prayer of St. Francis ringing in my ears.

If you host an event that you know will be provocative, and it provokes exactly the response you were hoping for, do not expect me to laud you as a hero, patriot, defender of free speech, or Christian. The people of AFDI are none of these.

No, they did not “deserve” to have their event shot up.

But they are provocateurs. They were hoping to get exactly the kind of response they got. In case you had not heard this yet, the AFDI was one of the groups most responsible for picketing an anti-Islamophobia event at the same convention center, earlier this year. They organized thousands of protestors to show up at that event. (That protest directly led to this event at Northaven) The radically anti-Muslim AFDI then booked the same convention center for this “Draw Muhammed” event.

Anti-Muslim pamphlets and leaflets were found inside the hall, and the keynote speaker was a virulently anti-Muslim Dutch politician who is so controversial that he travels with his own security detail.

So, congratulations, AFDI, you got exactly the response you were looking for. But you fail, miserably, the test of St. Francis to “understand” more than be “understood.”

Why, in God’s name, you intentionally choose to be provocative in the name of free speech is beyond me. Free speech is not the same thing as provocation. You have the “right” to say anything you want. But it doesn’t make it “right.”

I don’t know why some Muslims are so offended by depictions of The Prophet. But I know they are. So, no, you didn’t deserve to be attacked. But, I say quite clearly, on this morning when I am sure you are feeling justified and vindicated: you should feel neither.

You don’t speak for me, or for many other Christians and Americans.

And so I say, “I am not the AFDI”

But in saying this, I must also tell my dear readers: “I am NOT Charlie either”

And, while we’re at it, I’m not Andres Serrano (Google that, if you don’t understand).

After the Charlie Hebdo attacks, many of my friends took up the “I Am Charlie” meme. But I could not bring myself to do this. Without equivocation, the good people of Charlie Hebdo did not deserve to be shot and killed. I have great compassion for them and their families.

But we must step back from these events, take a breath, and admit something here. Charlie Hebdo and the AFDI were engaged in exactly same kind of provocation of Muslims. The vast majority of Muslims ignored the provocation. They did not take the bait. They stayed home, and kept their mouths shut…even if they were offended by the cartoons.

By the way, don’t miss the last point…

The AFDI organized thousands of out-of-state protesters in January, to protest a peaceful Muslim event. But, please notice that the good, faithful Muslims I know –who live down the street from you and me here in the Dallas/Garland area– did NOT counter with thousands of protesters at this AFDI event this weekend.

In fact, the local Muslim community made every effort to stay away from these events. And, from what we know, at least one of the gunmen was from Arizona…was from nowhere near Texas. (The good folks of Garland, then, don’t deserve to be dragged through the mud in this…)

Charlie Hebdo not only drew offensive cartoons about Muslims. They also drew offensive cartoons about Christianity too. I saw one depicting the Holy Trinity in a sexual “three-way.” I found it deeply offensive.

So no, “I am not Charlie. I am not the AFDI. I am not Andres Serrano.”

Just because you can say something, doesn’t always mean you should.

Our right, our absolute right, is to free speech. But we must exercise that civil right with spiritual wisdom. This, friends, is what’s lacking in our society today. And that’s where The Prayer of St. Francis comes in.

At the precise moment we might feel drawn to make some bombastic, cartoonish statments about other people, God would call us to ask: “Am I seeking to understand more than I am seeking to be understood?”

If I am doing something “just because I can,” or without care for how it might be received by others, then I have failed the test of seeking understanding.

Look. There are a lot of crazy individuals out there. There are a lot of people living on the edge. If you want to incite/provoke some lone individual to violent acts, then you absolutely can do that.

But you don’t get to claim that you’re a defender of free speech and liberty because of it. As I noted earlier, a Dutch politician was the keynote speaker at this anti-Muslim AFDI event.

It’s worth remembering, then, that it was a European CHRISTIAN, a few years back, who committed the largest single act of religious terrorism in modern history, killing young Muslims in his country. In his apartment, they found a rambling diatribe that cited his “Christian faith” as the reason for his actions.

Thankfully, the vast majority of Norwegian citizens refused to see the Christian faith as culpable for his lone acts of savagery. I’m grateful that my faith was not held responsible for that event.

We need the same response here. This shooting, I am confident, was not in concert with the beautiful Muslims who live, work, and worship here in the DFW area. Far from condemning Muslims this morning, we should be trying to understand them.

Here’s what blows my mind about this last point…

Last evening, while these events were unfolding in Garland, there were three separate United Methodist Churches, hosting events to seek to understand and embrace our Muslims friends and neighbors. One in Old East Dallas. One in Garland. And at one at my own church too. In fact, our interfaith peace event yesterday not only featured Buddhist chanting, Hindu Kirtan, Sufi Meditation, and a Christian Labyrinth Walk, but it also opened with this very prayer of St. Francis!!!

So, in sum, here are some things I know this morning…

I know that I am not an offended shooter, on a terrorism watch list.
I am not the AFDI.
I am not “Charlie.”
I am not Andres Serrano.
I am not a terrified Muslim friend, again cowering in fear this morning for their health and safety.
I am a believer in the Prayer of St. Francis.

And I’ll continue to hope, pray, and work for more understanding.

I hope you will too.

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. 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. She was re-elected for a third term in 2010. They have the world's best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. (As always, if you like this post, then "like" this on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too...)

10 thoughts on “I am not Charlie. I am not AFDI. I am not a Shooter.

  1. I am not Charlie, either, even if I was outraged by their murders. I’ve seen also how they depicted Christianity, and it was really very offensive, even more offensive that teir illustrations of the Muslim Proophet. A decent human being shouldn’t do that, even if they had the right.

  2. Eric, Let me repeat what I said recently that I read your posts because you give me food for thought. Having said that.

    “a Dutch CHRISTIAN, a few years back, who committed the largest single act of religious terrorism in modern history, killing young Muslims in his country. ”

    Seriously Eric?

    We are at War.

    How many more “christian” acts of terrorism have there been compared to the attacks by Moslems? And Yes, I know they find that spelling offensive. How many Moslems have Christians beheaded compared to those tortured and beheaded by followers of Islam? In Norway rapes and assaults skyrocketed after they let Moselms immigrate there. Where ever Islam goes, death and destruction follow. They have “honor” killings which we have experienced here in Dallas among the “peaceful” moslems. In Dearbornistan, MI, we have freedom of speeh curtailed and street preachers stoned, assaulted and then arrested by Moslem police.

    You are right that it is good to understand others and help them understand you.

    Long time ago, Texicans displayed a white flag with the outline of a cannon. Below it were the words “Come and take it”. That artwork helped Santa Anna’s Army understand there was a line in the sand. Cross it at your own risk.

    Islamic territory is where ever they set their feet. Having the event where the Islamic conference was retook that territory. UNDERSTAND THAT. Understand we are at war.

  3. What happened in Texas is a case of intentionally baiting people to lash out. I believe in the legal world, it’s referred to as “fighting words” (an actual defense). Hosting a “Muhammad (PBUM) drawing contest” is the equivalent to driving up to a Hells Angels motorcycle gang rally and holding up signs calling them a bunch of wimps, pansies, and scarry-cats. Moreover, if this AFDI stunt had been committed prior to say, 1995, the same results could have been expected. It’s highly offensive to Muslims to engage in idolatry and mockery of their prophet. Jesus taught us to “do unto others as we’d have them do unto us.” AFDI threw all of that away.

    author, Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity

    1. Can you clarify who is the Dutch Christian terrorist to whom you refer? I’m wondering if you mean Anders Breivik, the Norwegian Christian terrorist and mass murderer responsible for killing 77 people in 2011. Interesting to note that in his manifesto he lauds Pamela Geller and her gang. And she defended his actions. She’s as responsible for her part in his “radicalization” as ISIS is for the Texas shooters.

      1. I had that wrong, and have corrected it. Thanks for catching the error.
        And, yes, it is most interesting to note his appreciate for her…..chilling, really.

  4. Sounds like good old-fashioned victim blaming to me. After all, women who wear provocative clothing and get raped, have nobody but themselves to hold accountable, according to this kind of “logic”.

    How terribly Islamophobic and un PC of me…

    1. yael58: No. It’s not at all the same. A woman is not “taunting” men through her choice of clothing. This event, start-to-finish, was designed by “bait” Muslims into a reaction. Thankfully, the vast majority of Muslims did *not* respond…and, please note, none of the many Muslims in the Dallas area responded.
      So, you are building a false analogy here. No, women do not “bait” men into committing acts of sexual violence. Women do not taunt men, or make fun of them.
      This event *absolutely* taunted, denigrated, and made fun of the Muslim faith.
      Do I think the planners “deserved” to have their event shot up? No. I don’t. I say that clearly.

      So, if you missed that, I’m sorry.

      But don’t expect me to laud them as heroes, defenders of the faith, or free speech because they organized a taunting event, and then somebody took their bait.

    2. Wow. Fails to understand rape and what counts as a valid analogy all in one fell swoop. Efficient.

      Neither the OP nor any comment states or implies violence is a legitimate response to protected speech. Even when exercised by reprehensible hypocrites like Geller and her ilk, who don’t actually support Constitutional rights for everyone and who condemn terrorism, except for when it is committed by Christians.

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