There’s a lot to like about Presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson. His is one of those great, American storybook successes. America working like America is supposed to work: poor, African-American child of a single mother grows up to be a successful neurosurgeon. You’ve got to love that story, and a lot of Dr. Carson's message.
However, being a successful neurosurgeon is apparently no guarantee you won’t embarrass yourself in the national spotlight.
I’m not sure which constitution Dr. Carson had in mind when he opined that no Muslim is fit to be the President. The US constitution guarantees freedom of (and freedom from) religion, and specifies that no religious litmus test shall deter anyone from holding office.
In other words, even a Roman Catholic can be President - which was a very big deal when JFK ran. Even an atheist could be President. And, at the rate we’re moving away from religious convictions, that may happen sooner than later.
Even a Muslim could be President.
A letter to the editor in today’s Charlotte Observer suggested Christianity is a religion, but Islam is a theocracy. I suppose it is that kind of fear-based non-sense that drove the good doctor to make his bold but misguided declaration.
After much commotion over his comment, Carson modified his opinion, saying he could tolerate a moderate Muslim, though I can’t imagine a worse kind of Muslim – or Christian, or Jew, or atheist for that matter. Jesus had great disdain for moderate convictions: …because you are lukewarm… I am about to spit you out of my mouth (Rev. 3.16). Why would we want anyone with lukewarm convictions to lead us?
And Wednesday Dr. Carson stepped in it again. He said that he welcomes immigrants to America – as long as they don’t change “who we are.”
I hope you realize how naïve and xenophobic and narrow-minded that is. Who are “we,” after all? What is freedom, if it isn’t freedom? And who determined who we are, in the first place?
The great experiment of democracy has been the greatest venture in human governance ever conceived. It is a powerful, beautiful endeavor, but it is perpetually messy and infinitely more difficult than the alternatives, which put the power to decide “who we are” in the concentrated hands of one, or a few.
Thank God Susan B. Anthony would not stand to let us be just “who we are.” Thank God Martin Luther King, Jr. thought “who we are” was much less than who we should be. Thank God for immigrants who have always changed who we were – to make us who we are!
Thank God for that freedom, because that is who we are.
I suspect Dr. Carson is implying that there is a particular “narrative,” a way of being American, that defines our culture. What irony! The narrative of “who we are” today is largely defined by normative white maleness – and that standard is changing.
That a black man, a white woman, and a Cuban-American immigrant are all running for President is long-overdue proof that we should change. Thanks to our brave constitution, WE can change.
I suspect the reality that we are, in fact, changing drives the deep angst that is responsible for much of the unrest in today’s culture – the sexism that continues to shame us, the homophobia that proves our bigoted insecurities, the dangerous racial superiority that is our original sin, the nationalistic anti-immigrant hypocrisy that blinds us to that which is the very best of our history.
That fearless Harbor Lady, who stands with a welcoming light in New York Harbor, knows who we are: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me!”
This is who we are.
And people of freedom, especially people of faith, whose story of liberation from physical slavery and social oppression and spiritual bondage is central to our affirmation of God, should never be afraid.
Even if we had a Muslim President.
Photo by Gage Skidmore. Edited with FX Photo Studio PRO.