As a theologically conservative evangelical Christian who attends a predominantly White church, it is mind boggling to me that some in our communitywould contend that Islam is not a religion, but a political ideology undeserving of religious freedom.
If there is anything that the White evangelical community should be learning during the Trump presidency, it is that White evangelical Christianity is just as much a political ideology as it is a religious movement and is therefore also disqualified from being a religion under this line of thought.
Consider that 81% of White evangelicals voted for Trump in 2016. 75% did the same in the 2018 midterms. Trump has actively sought support in the White evangelical community, most recently at McLean Bible Church. There is a reason why Republican presidential candidates cater to evangelicals in key swing states. I was recently told by a friend, “I no longer identify as an evangelical because I no longer vote that way.” No further explanation was needed.
Opponents of Islam’s status as a religion contend that Islam is a radically conservative political ideology that seeks to impose Sharia law in our courts. How is 1-2% of America’s population going to accomplish that, exactly? But that’s beside the point.
First, the suggestion that Islam is conspiring a theocratic, ultra-conservative political takeover doesn’t take into consideration Muslim voting patterns. In 2016, almost 80% of Muslims voted for Hillary Clinton. When Muslims run for political office in America, they almost always do so as Democrats. Young Muslims in particular are embracing progressivismat a rapid pace.
Second, this line of thinking doesn’t consider where American Muslims stand on a number of moral and religious issues. According to Pew’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study, 55% of American Muslims believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. 42% strongly favor gay marriage. Only 37% look to religion the most for guidance on right and wrong, while only 20% say that there are clear standards for right and wrong.
White evangelical Christianity is just as much a political ideology as it is a religious movement .
Third, this line of thinking is predicated on the belief that most American Muslims are foreign-born immigrants. 40-50% of American Muslims were born in the U.S., and only 14% were born in the Middle East. Furthermore, 30% of the American Muslim community are Black Americans, a community with a long history of fighting for civil rights and equality, as well as voting democrat. Finally, this line of thinking doesn’t take into consideration Muslim attitudes about America. Over 90% of Muslims are proud to be Americans. In their 2018 poll, the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding found that 90% of Muslims want to live in a country where no one is targeted for their religious identity. Sadly, only 78% of White evangelicals said the same. Those with more negative views of Muslims (White evangelicals especially) are more likely to approve of discriminatory policies targeting Muslims, agree to limiting democratic freedoms when the country is under threat, and condone military and individual attacks on civilians.
Should White evangelicals really be afraid of Muslims imposing Sharia law? Maybe it is Muslims that should be afraid of us. Even more, by citing that Islam is not a religion according to our fantasies about their political intentions, we’ve failed to realize that we are actually the guilty ones according to our own logic. We’re the ones who so clearly co-opted a political party, and allowed ourselves to be co-opted, to institute our moral and religious vision in America, and it is Muslims who are suffering for it. While 56% of Americans in 2019 said that Muslims face a lot of discrimination in our country, only 18% said the same about evangelicals.
If Islam is not a religion but merely a political ideology, then White evangelicalism must forfeit the title of religion as well. To my White evangelical brethren, I implore you to consider how it feels when pundits and the media reduce our community to a “voting bloc.” If we do not wish this for ourselves, we should not bear this false witness against the Muslim community. Muslims are a richly diverse community who love their God and their country. They want the same things we want: the freedom to worship without fear, and a basic respect for their religious beliefs even if others don’t agree. In affording them what we demand from others, we are fulfilling Jesus’ command to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Kevin Singer is Co-Director of Neighborly Faith, an organization dedicated to helping evangelicals to be good neighbors to people of other faiths. He is also a PhD student at North Carolina State University studying higher education and Research Associate for the Interfaith Diversity Experiences and Attitudes Longitudinal Survey (IDEALS).Twitter: @kevinsinger0. Website: singerwriting.com