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UMC Jihad Ads press conference

(Photo: Nathaniel Torrey/ Institute on Religion and Democracy)

By Nathaniel Torrey

In response to the anti-Jihad subway ads in New York and Washington, DC put out by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, a coalition of religious groups that includes the United Methodist Women’s Division has co-sponsored a counter ad. The new ad reads: “Hate speech is not civilized. Support peace in word and deed. #mysubwayad.” The ads go up today, October 15th, at the Glenmont, Takoma Park, and Woodley Park – Zoo/ Adams Morgan metro stations in the nation’s capital.

“Shoulder to Shoulder,” a national campaign of various religious groups dedicated to ending anti-Muslim sentiment, hosted a press conference today at the United Methodist Building on Capital Hill to coincide with the release of the ad. The conference was moderated by Diane Randall, the Executive Secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation. There were brief statements given by members of organizations who co-sponsored the ad: Rabbi Bruce Lustig, Senior Rabbi of the Washington Hebrew Congregation, Sabrina White, member of the National Office of the United Methodist Women from the Baltimore-Washington Conference, Rabbi Batya Steinlauf, president of the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington and director of Social Justice and Interfaith Initiatives at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, Reverend J. Herbert Nelson, director of the Office of Public Witness, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Imam Mohamed Magid, president of the Islamic Society of North America.

All the speakers affirmed in no uncertain terms that they recognize the American Freedom Defense Initiative has the right to post these ads.   But they condemned them as misleading, prejudiced, and divisive. United Methodist Women’s official Sabrina White said:

The language of the ad we denounce today, in particular the word savage, has a very painful history in our great nation. On this very ground we now stand, it was a word once used against native Americans, it was once used against African Americans, it was once used to justify massacres and slavery. It seeks to dehumanize and to distance people from the human race, human dignity, and any claim to human rights. As a nation, we still struggle to recover from this devastating impact. Hate speech does not progress the very difficult work for peace making in this extremely complex situation our world faces in the 21st century. Yes, with our great constitution comes freedom of speech. We urge everyone to also exercise an even greater responsibility to use words and wisdom when we speak.

However, as our own IRD Religious Liberty Director Faith McDonnell pointed out in a press release last week, the original ads do not call Muslims savages at all: they denounce the way jihad is used to instigate violence against Israel, the United States, Christians in the Middle East, and even Muslims who have no interest in the irrational violence these so-called jihadists perpetrate.

As Christians dealing with the violence of a fallen world, whether we be of a pacifist stripe, or speak from the tradition of just war, whether we be Left or Right, all sin must be dealt within in this world in a spirit of love. What Imam Mohamed Magid said as the conference as the conference came to a close should be something all Christians can affirm:  “We can respond to hate only with love. Darkness with light.”