Ben Carson, the Republican neurosurgeon who wants to be President, recently said that a Muslim should not be our President. The divisions in the American body politic immediately announced themselves. That remark was widely criticized as being prejudiced, discriminatory and insulting against Muslims. Money poured into his campaign from those who support him.
On NBC’s Meet the Press on September 20, Carson laid out a general principle that certain religions need extra scrutiny. Chuck Todd asked, “Should a President’s faith matter? Should your faith matter to voters?” Carson replied, “Well, I guess it depends on what that faith is. If it’s inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter. But if it fits within the realm of America and consistent with the constitution, no problem.”
Carson then used that principle to exclude Islam as he understands it. Todd asked, “So do you believe that Islam is consistent with the Constitution?” Carson said, “No, I don’t, I do not. I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”
Last week in Cedarville, Ohio, he repeated his principle: “Who should be allowed to be President of the United States. And I said I think anybody, regardless of their religion, if they are willing to embrace the values and principles of America and our Constitution and subject their beliefs to the Constitution. I have no problem with that at all. And that's perfectly reasonable.”
Carson's claim that Islam fails his Constitutional tests resonates with Christian fundamentalists who would never accept those tests being applied to their own faith.
This Sunday, he specified what is wrong with Islam: “I would have problems with somebody who embraced all the doctrines associated with Islam. If they are not willing to reject Sharia and all the portions of it that are talked about in the Quran, if they are not willing to reject that, and subject that to American values and the Constitution, then of course, I would. If you are not willing to reject that, then how in the world can you possibly be the president of the United States?”
He told ABC that Muslims should rewrite their sacred text: “What I would like for somebody to show me is an improved Islamic text that opposes Shariah. Let me see—if you can show me that, I will begin to alter my thinking on this. But right now, when you have something that is against the rights of women, against the rights of gays, subjugates other religions, and a host of things that are not compatible with our Constitution, why, in fact, would you take that chance?”
I agree with Carson that if someone’s beliefs contradict our Constitution, they should not be President. And I agree that some Muslim religious interpretations contradict our Constitution. The trouble is that Carson applies his tests of religious suitability only to Islam. He does not advocate that a Christian specifically renounce the Biblical passages which violate our Constitution, such as approving discussions of slavery and of stoning women accused of adultery.
Carson does not advocate that Mike Huckabee drop out of the presidential race because he supported Kim Davis in Kentucky, when she placed her religious beliefs against the rights of gays above her sworn Constitution responsibilities.
Ben Carson is a Seventh Day Adventist. On their own website, they hold up “the Bible as the only standard of faith and practice for Christians.” If Seventh Day Adventists assert that the Bible is the only standard of practice, shouldn’t Seventh Day Adventists who want our votes be clear that they “subjugate their religious beliefs to our constitution”?
If Carson thinks Islam is unacceptable because it is “against the rights of gays”, then I ask him to reject the Seventh Day Adventist teaching that “Homosexuality is a manifestation of the disturbance and brokenness in human inclinations and relations caused by the entrance of sin into the world.”
On Thursday, he told Bill O’Reilly, “When I look at Islamic nations, what I see are people who don't give women equal rights.” What about the controversy among Seventh Day Adventists about whether women should be ordained? At the General Conference in July this issue came up again, and was rejected again, as it has been for more than a century. Should Carson renounce his own religion’s discrimination against women in order to be a candidate?
His claim that Islam fails his Constitutional tests resonates with Christian fundamentalists who would never accept those tests being applied to their own faith. Nor would they appreciate the suggestion that the Bible be rewritten to remove offensive passages. Carson finds support among people who are ignorant of the many varieties of Islam, as many as there of Christianity, ignorant of the Quran as a source of Muslim belief, ignorant of the long history of Islam in America as a native African American religious movement.
As Kareem Abdu-Jabbar, who converted to Islam in 1971, said, “People do not condemn all Christians for the acts of the group that calls themselves the Christian Knights or the Ku Klux Klan. I don’t think that Mr. Carson has any idea, or knows very many Muslims, because if he did he wouldn’t say the things that he’s saying.”
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