You know the old phrase and you yourself may have said it on the playground, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names can never hurt me.” Yet we also know that words do hurt when used in misguided ways, both on the playground and in the wider world. Words do hurt and can cause destruction, as we have been seeing across north Africa, the Arabian peninsula, and the Islamic world.

Great harm has been done by the video The Innocence of Muslims, which makes erroneous claims about the Prophet Mohammed. (In full disclosure, I have not watched the video itself. I have read and heard excerpts from the video. In part, I have not watched it because I do not want to give such hateful speech any more hits on youtube.)

We in the west, and in an area of the west that is still overwhelmingly Christian in presumption if not in actual church attendance or belief, we often have difficulty understanding the strong reactions by our Muslim brothers and sisters to offensive statements or pictures about the Prophet Mohammed. Why does this amateurish movie cause people to riot? Yet do you remember back to 1990 and the furor over the modern art exhibition by Robert Mapplethorpe which displayed a crucifix in a vessel of urine? No one called for the art museum to be burnt down, but there were many boycotts and calls for any public funding to be withdrawn. Let us remember, we too have strong reactions to those things we believe denigrate our faith and our God.

I spent a fair amount of time growing up in a place where I was a distinct religious minority. I rarely felt singled out for my different beliefs than those of the prevailing culture; there were just a few times in school when I was the odd girl out. I felt that my beliefs were respected, even though they were different and not always understood by our friends and neighbors. Yet I also knew that the predominant culture did not speak for me, nor did the ways that the predominate culture influenced politics, the schools, and other areas of common life together. My experience growing up as a minority has made me have a great respect for the ways in which a dominant culture can presume to speak for everyone, but miss the mark in its presumptions of what is seen as normal. Just because something or someone is different does not mean that it is wrong or bad; it is just different. There is no need for name calling, speaking badly, and certainly no need for hate-filled speech.

We have quoted this piece of Scripture a number of times, but it just seems right to quote it again. Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-40 and also in Mark 12:30-31 and Luke 10:27)