Daryl Byler, executive director of Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, wrote this open letter to his former law school colleague Jerry Falwell Jr. Condensed here, it was published Dec. 14 in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
While we attended law school together at the University of Virginia in the late 1980s, our lives have taken us down very different paths.
We both ended up only an hour’s drive away from our alma mater — you as president of Liberty University, the largest Christian university in the country, and me as executive director of the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University.
Like you, I condemn the mass murder of 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif., and grieve with the families who lost loved ones. But I was alarmed by your call for students at Liberty to apply for permits to carry concealed weapons so they can “end those Muslims before they walked in” or “teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.”
I fail to see how this call contributes to your university’s stated mission to develop “Christ-centered men and women with the values, knowledge and skills essential to impact the world.”
Our university also seeks to be Christ-centered — attentive to the teachings and example of Jesus. This is what pushes us to “welcome the stranger,” including those who come from other faith traditions.
We are privileged to host a number of Muslim students at our center. Our program is stronger because of their presence. Muslim students have helped us to be more self-reflective about how U.S. Christians are viewed around the world. In them, we witness justice and peacebuilding values that are deeply rooted in their own faith tradition. From them, we learn the importance of prayer, compassion and giving. With them, we commit to building a more just world.
Having lived in the Middle East for six years — and having experienced gracious hospitality in Muslim homes — I am aware that the horrific shooting in San Bernardino and the senseless killing of dozens in Paris must be seen in the context of other acts of terrorism.
The U.S.-led war in Iraq has unleashed chaotic conditions that threaten the stability of the entire region. While not intentionally targeting civilians, U.S. drone strikes frequently inflict terror on Middle Eastern families. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, was tortured in a U.S.-run prison in Iraq — an experience that most certainly contributed to his extremism.
Two weeks ago, I visited one of our Muslim graduates in northern Iraq. She laments the ongoing chaos in her country. But she has hope. She reflected that during her time at our center she felt respected and valued. She learned that it was possible to create a close-knit community with people who hold very different perspectives from her own. It gives her hope that peace is possible in Iraq.
Jerry, let us agree to work together to end all acts of violence and build a safer world.
That will not happen by calling our students to arms. It will come by having the courage to create spaces where people from different faiths, nationalities and races feel respected and safe enough to risk seeing the humanity in the other. It will come by being humble enough to recognize our own contributions to the world’s conflicts. It will come by training our students with analytical tools and skills to address the root causes of violence.
Let us offer hope to the world, instead of more reasons for others to hate us.
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