I was at the Gorge waiting for a concert to start, enjoying the sunshine and the company of my friends when I made the mistake of looking at my phone.
I had been tagged in a Facebook meme that read, “In 20 years there will be enough Muslims in the U.S. to elect a president.” The post has since been deleted. The rest of it said that people needed to know and be alarmed about this apparently scary statistic.
In the comment section someone asked what my thoughts were. I wrote, “So what?”
And, as you might guess, the conversation spiraled from there.
The meme was correct in that the Muslim population is growing.
According to Pew Research, in 2017 there were about 3.45 Muslims living in the U.S., an increase of about 1 million since 2007.
“By 2040, Muslims will replace Jews as the nation’s second-largest religious group after Christians. And by 2050, the U.S. Muslim population is projected to reach 8.1 million, or 2.1% of the nation’s total population – nearly twice the share of today,” the research states.
The woman who tagged me in this post, who I believe to be an evangelical Christian, didn’t understand my “who cares?” comment. Muslims shouldn’t be in the U.S., she said. It’s disrespectful for them to be here because of Sept. 11, she continued.
I responded angrily, saying that stereotypes are wrong and unfair and prejudice. I brooded over her words and expressed my disbelief to my friends.
Another Facebook alert came. Someone else had joined the conversation: “… Many of us don’t know the difference between Muslims and ISIS.”
She said they needed people like me to help them understand.
In that moment, my anger turned to remorse. I should have responded with compassion and empathy and not been so reactionary. After all, I became a religion reporter for this reason – to educate people about other belief systems.
I should have told her about my first time visiting a mosque, and how a group of women embraced this stranger, guided me through the service and fed me after. I should have told her about my Muslim friends here in Spokane who exemplify their faith through kindness and generosity.
Bob Roberts, an evangelical pastor at NorthWood Church in Keller, Texas, said it better than I can. On this week’s episode of the public radio program Interfaith Voices, he said that many evangelicals don’t know Muslims personally, which is problematic.
Recently a study from the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding reported that 62 percent of evangelicals claim there is anti-Muslim sentiment within their own communities.
“Their perception of Muslims has been shaped by the media and terrorist attacks, because that’s what’s in the media, and sadly that’s become their view,” Roberts said. “In our own faith we’re taught to love our neighbor, to love God, to love one another, to love our family and love our enemies. So let’s just say that Evangelicals are right and that all Muslims are terrorists – and that’s crazy, it’s not true – but let’s say that’s true, then what is the Jesus response to those Muslims? You still love them.”
Extremists make up a minuscule percentage of Islam, he added, just like white separatists make up only a tiny percentage of those claiming to be evangelical Christian.
We need more pastors like Bob Roberts, who encourages us to find more ways to meet those who are different from us, so we can shed our misjudgment. And we need more people like my Facebook friend, who tag us in posts as a way to express themselves while also seeking to understand.
Tracy Simmons is an award-winning journalist specializing in religion reporting and digital entrepreneurship. In her approximate 20 years on the religion beat, Simmons has tucked a notepad in her pocket and found some of her favorite stories aboard cargo ships in New Jersey, on a police chase in Albuquerque, in dusty Texas church bell towers, on the streets of New York and in tent cities in Haiti. Simmons has worked as a multimedia journalist for newspapers across New Mexico, Texas, Connecticut and Washington. She is the executive director of SpokaneFāVS.com, a digital journalism start-up covering religion news and commentary in Spokane, Washington. She also writes for The Spokesman-Review and national publications. She is a Scholarly Assistant Professor of Journalism at Washington State University.