Earlier this week, we celebrated International Day of Peace and although several of my friends headed to the UN to engage in the important work of international peace-building, policy making, and collaboration, my timeline and my thoughts were overtaken by presidential candidate Ben Carson’s comments on CNN’s State of the Union. Carson said that he would not support the election of a Muslim president in the United States because Islam is not consistent with the Constitution. He went on to say that one’s faith should matter in determining their fit for national office, especially if that faith is Islam. Come on Ben, really?
Ben Carson use to be one of my heroes. His rise to success through hard work and determination are commendable. His accomplishments as a world renowned neurosurgeon are applaudable, but somehow, I think Dr. Ben has lost touch with reality.
However, I think he is right that faith matters. It matters to the 3.5 million American Muslims who will be headed to the polls in 2016. It matters that a presidential candidate believes that their faith should preclude them from serving their God through service to their country. It also matters that a presidential candidate has misinterpreted the Constitution through a lens shaped by fear-mongering and media soundbites. Clearly, Dr. Ben has never had an encounter with a Muslim, and what a sad commentary on his Christianity. What an even sadder commentary on his grasp of the foundational document that frames and undergirds all legislation in this country.
I hope that if Dr. Carson continues his political pursuits, he hires a religious advisor who can help him to better articulate his views on faith. I also hope that as a Christian, he devotes some intentional time to truly understanding other faiths and how they are similar and/or distinct from his own. But just in case neither of those are viable options, here are my suggestions for him going forward. While I am not a political strategist, I am a Christian, a minister, and a mentor. If these tips don’t help Ben, I hope they help somebody else.
- Travel outside of the United States and engage world leaders who are non-Christian. Study the success of their countries. This will teach you that it doesn’t have to be done our way in order to be done well.
- Spend time in interfaith dialogue, designed to educate and create a foundation for peace. Since you are a man and cannot participate in the Daughters of Abraham monthly discussion group as I do, perhaps you can head over to the US Institute of Peace and enroll in a course or gather some resources. The USIP leadership will help you to begin to understand religion as an asset in rather than a barrier to peace-building and global governance. Note: Through participation in the Daughters of Abraham, I was introduced to the most influential book that I’ve read in the recent past that helped me to better understand the sentiments of Muslims in America, Amy Waldman’s The Submission. I hope Dr. Ben will read it.
- Schedule appointments with Muslim Americans in elected offices and ask them how their faith has informed their work on behalf of their constituents and all Americans. You can start with Congressmen Keith Ellison and Andre Carson.
- Finally, be open to partnering and collaboration with people who don’t believe as you do in order to create a better America and a better world. After all, part of the President’s role is building allies in support of our domestic agenda and global interests. You are running for President, aren’t you?