In the wake of rising political attacks in the United States on Islam, a Reno pastor made a plea for religious tolerance to his congregation in a Christmas Eve sermon.
Rev. William Chrystal, a former military chaplain whose son served in the Iraq occupation, told members of Reno’s First Congregational Church that he had just presided at his fifth funeral for someone who served in Iraq.
“I never dreamed when I hung up my uniform 10 years ago … that I’d be wearing it so often these days and for such sad occasons. I’m melancholy this Christmas Eve.”
Chrystal mentioned a hymn written in gloom by Henry Wadsorth Longfellow during the U.S. civil war. He recalled that in the “Silent Night truces” of World War One, soldiers on both sides of the lines met in no man’s land during the Christmas season to recover their dead and ended up sharing smokes and food, playing games and singing carols. As the truce spread up and down the lines, the soldiers’ superiors became alarmed that a “premature” peace might break out.
“I’ve always loved the stories about the Christmas truces on the western front because, like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s lyrics, they remind us that the Christmas story is greater than nations and their national interests,” Chrystal told his congregants. “Indeed, more and more often these days, I hear people talking about ‘us’ versus ‘them,’ about Christianity versus Islam. And I cringe because whatever else it is, the message of Jesus of Nazareth is not a crusader ideology. Jesus of Nazareth took upon himself the mantle of a prophet of peace, one who sought to heal ancient divisions rather than to exacerbate them. He realized that unless we embrace God in a radically new way and reach out to the people who are most different from us and call them ‘neighbor,’ we are no different from those who are rigid and narrow-minded, the people he termed ‘scribes and Pharisees.” (Chrystal has a new Web site at ChrystalOnFaith.com)
Earlier this month, talk show host Dennis Prager published a column attacking Rep.-elect Keith Ellison of Minnesota, who plans to take his oath of office (in a private oath-taking for family and friends, not the mass swearing-in on the House floor) while placing his hand on the Quran, the holy book of Islam. Prager’s column, headlined “America, not Keith Ellison, decides what book a Congressman takes his oath on,” called the plan “an act of hubris [that] undermines American civilization.”
U.S. Rep. Virgil Goode of Virginia then sent out a letter to his constituents calling Ellison’s use of the Quran not in keeping with “the values and beliefs traditional to the United States.”
Soon the U.S. Holocaust Museum, where Prager serves on the council board, distanced itself from him. The editor of the John Birch Society’s magazine praised Goode, but numerous members of Congress, including his fellow Virginian John Warner, disagreed with his stance.