Yesterday, National Public Radio fired Juan Williams for remarks he made about Muslims when he appeared as a guest on Fox New’s “The O’Reilly Factor”. Williams, addressing O’Reilly, said: “I mean, look, Bill. I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on a plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”
I wonder how, as a person and a journalist, Williams thought about his associations with both NPR and Fox News. These two organizations really embody the polarization of our national conversation about how we should best navigate the increasing cultural and religious diversity of our daily lives. I believe that the only way to heal this polarization is to engage one another across the divide, so I admire any person who makes that effort. Williams is claiming that NPR fired him simply because they didn’t like his association with Fox. Hmm… And yet, I do find this comment astounding and disturbing, particularly coming from someone with a deep immersion in the civil rights movement and the realities of racism in this country.
Paul, in Ephesians, writes of the work of reconciliation from a Christian perspective: “For Jesus is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall; that is, the hostility between us…” (Eph 2: 14)
Paul is referencing the need, in the early Christian community, to overcome the division between Jews and non-Jews who both have become Christians. When Paul insists that “Jesus is our peace” I don’t think we need to read this as meaning that Muslims, for example, can’t find peace in the wisdom of their own tradition. What I believe he is saying is that the life of Jesus, his entire way of being in the world, gives those of us who ARE Christians, the power of reconciliation in all of our relationships (whether between Christians and people of other faiths, or between NPR listeners and Fox News advocates.) Through the particular riches of our own tradition, we can embrace the difficult, complex and life-giving work of reconciliation as a core calling.