Merry Christmas Mr. Ellison

In November, the good folks of Minnesota elected Keith Ellison to represent them in the House of Representatives. Keith was born in Detroit and educated at the University of Minnesota. He is a lawyer. He has a long history of activism and he converted to Islam while a college student. As a result, he is the first Muslim to be elected to Congress.

He has chosen, as is his right in his private swearing-in ceremony, to take his oath of office on the Koran. The Koran is the book revered by the Islamic faith in much the same way that the Bible is revered by Jews and Christians.

Here’s the problem. Representative Virgil Goode from Virginia took exception to Mr. Ellison’s private swearing in ceremony and wrote a letter to voters in his district expressing his concern. In summary the letter said that Americans need to wake up and adopt stricter immigration laws or else we will be “swamped” by Muslims who will elect more of their own kind and erode our “traditional values and beliefs”.

The irony of this instance of bigotry is that Mr. Ellison can trace his ancestry in this country back to the mid 1700’s which is about the same time that the first Goode’s showed up in Virginia.

I suspect that Mr. Goode (an irony in itself) was well aware of Mr. Ellison’s background before he sent the letter. What confirms this is his refusal to issue any form of apology or move away from his xenophobic stance. In much the same way as Strom Thurmond established himself as a defender of “traditional values” in the 50’s and 60’s, Mr. Goode sees an opportunity to create a secure political position for himself in 2007. In this regard, I don’t blame Mr. Goode for being a political opportunist. I do blame those who have voted for him if they continue to support this position.

The good news in all of this is that Mr. Ellison has taken the high road and refused to engage in the same demagoguery as Mr. Goode. Not only is Mr. Ellison the first Muslim ever elected to Congress, he is joined by two Buddhists who also are the first of their faith to be elected.

As Mr. Ellison has said, there is strength in diversity. That strength is our ability as a nation to include everyone in the decision making process. What better way to defuse the fear and hatred of our enemies than to demonstrate that our democratic process allows everyone an opportunity to participate regardless of how they think of God. It’s this idea of embracing diversity that I believe sets our political system apart and offers the promise of changing the world.

What is particularly interesting about all of this is that almost two thousand forty years ago, another new idea of God was seeking shelter and didn’t find the world very welcoming. Even in obscurity, the wisest men of the time found a way to pay their respects. The political system tried to kill the idea before it grew. They were eventually successful in killing the man, but the idea changed the world forever.

7 Responses to “Merry Christmas Mr. Ellison”

  1. Dave says:

    THANK YOU!! This is exactly what Mary and I were saying when we first heard about this, this morning. I’m wondering if Mr. Goode might be headed for a recall election.

  2. Maera Koz says:

    I am elated to see now 3 members of a non christian faith in Congress. I have seen too many times where a persons private life, their beliefs, family Ect. Have been on trial simply beacuse they wish a public office.

    Their private lives hold no standing on their decisions if they are true to their own morals, and honestly all have the same morals. Mayhaps they are worded diffrently.

    As a Wiccan I am greatful to see that the minority faits in America are starting to become clearly recognized and seen as non threatening to the majority.

    Blessed Be,

    Happy Yule to all.

  3. Jeff Beamsley says:

    Maera and Dave,

    Thanks for your comments.

    It has to be a big tent to fit all of us. That includes the Virgil Goode’s of the world too.

    I’ve got an idea that I’m toying with for a future blog entry regarding the face of God.

    It’s about what we see when we pass from this mortal life into the next life.

    The thought I’m playing with is that you confront your creator, but what you see is whatever your understanding of your creator was before you passed. If you believed in a vengeful angry God, that’s who you see. If you believed in a benevolent loving God, that’s who you see. If you believe in a less distinct set of dieties, those are who embrace you. And that is where your journey starts in the next life, pretty much where it ended up in this one.

    So everyones idea of God today is an aspect of who God really is.  If God is infinite and All in All (as the Bible says), then She is every vision and every intuition that every human has ever had about a greater power.

    So at least in this sense, if Mr. Goode (I love that name) makes no more progress in his understanding of God, he will confront a God who is pretty narrow minded and perhaps not very tolerant of Mr. Goode’s shortcommings.
    What do you think?

    Jeff

  4. Ria says:

    Excellent. When I first heard about it, I gave it a lot of thought. What do we seek to accomplish by having anyone swear on anything. It’s an oath by an individual to [their] God. They are calling on confirmation by that higher being. It order for the gesture to be truly meaningful, shouldn’t it be to the individual’s God? For instance, if a Muslim swears to the bible, it’s meaningless. He won’t feel bound by anything. Ditto for the Buddhists.
    Forcing the bible on people is not what was intended especially by God. He wants the flock to gather on their own.

    Goode is an ignorant, narrow minded, self righteous, good ole boy. His mouth opened up and it just spewed out for everyone to see.

  5. Jeff Beamsley says:

    Ria,

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

    You’re absolutely right. The oath of office is an indication of reverence and commitment. The fact that these individual oaths are a private ceremony further emphasizes the fact that this is a personal commitment.

    Unfortunately, as I mentioned in the post, Goode may be a lot of things, but I don’t think that he is ignorant. I think that he is getting exactly the sort of play that he was hoping for.

    We can, though, take comfort in the fact the most do eventually reap what they sow.

    Jeff

  6. Will says:

    A few years ago Jeff Foxworthy did a great routine about how, when you arrive at the pearly gates, those from the north would be shocked to find St. Peter will be roll’in up in a Ford Pick-up with a gun rack. Conversly, great american song writer Steve Earl has a wonderul line about being welcomed home to the pearly gates, to which he replies – “no thank you Pete, I just keep movin along”.

    I applaud Rep. Ellison’s committment to faith and desire to serve. I do find it sad that as a nation we remain divided over such issues as “an oath or affirmation”. Still, given that most Islamic nations would not allow the tolerance that Rep. Ellison is being shown by having his swearing in conducted in the fashion he likes, I am impressed with our progress and expect that it will continue.

    Rep. Goode does nothing more than remind us that we still have work to do. Good luck on the “vision of meeting god” idea. Although I know that there are many ideals on who, what, where “God” is / was / will be, the one think I am sure of is that “God” is not a Detroit Lions fan – “Lion’s – Built Ford Bad Since 1957” (O.K. – I just wanted to throw the Lions thing in there – I know that God likes the Cowboys!).

  7. Jeff Beamsley says:

    Will,

    Thanks for the comment and the observation.

    I believe the brilliant seed planted by our founding fathers was the idea that we would not survive as a nation if we had a state religion.

    History certainly has plenty of examples of the terrible tyranny of the righteous.

    As far as God’s sports preferences, I’ve already touched on that briefly in a previous post. Jeff Meade expressed his views in the paper recently too.

    I’ve always thought that God was a Bears fan anyway.

    Jeff

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