Donald Trump’s call to block all Muslims from entering the United States was met Tuesday with almost universal condemnation — bringing together leaders of many faiths and nations, and even Democratic and Republican politicians.
The ban proposed by Trump, who still leads most polls in the GOP presidential race, was blasted as bigoted, unconstitutional, potentially dangerous for American interests abroad, and troubling because Trump’s followers cheered it.
“What is most frightening is not that he made those comments, but that so many people may agree with him, and those comments are getting so much support,” said Marvin Szneler, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Bureau in Overland Park. “That is very, very frightening.”
Szneler spoke after a noon press conference at Rolling Hills Presbyterian Church in Overland Park. The event, planned in support of an accepting policy toward Syrian refugees, also gave Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders an opportunity to object to Trump’s proposal.
Fatima Mohammadi, a member of the board of directors for the Islamic Society of Greater Kansas City, also said at the gathering that Trump “doesn’t know what he’s talking about; he really doesn’t.”
Given his ignorance of Islam and the Constitution, and being out of step with what most Americans believe, she said, “I don’t think anything he says is a viable possibility.”
Even before Trump’s proposal Monday, several area ministers over the weekend addressed anti-Muslim sentiments and fears rising from the killings last week in California.
“We must of course be diligent with security as people enter our country,” the Rev. Adam Hamilton said Tuesday, recapping a sermon heard by an estimated 11,000 people at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection. “But to say that one quarter of the world’s population will no longer be welcome to enter the U.S. is not the solution.
“It sends a message that plays right into the hands of ISIS and it fails to distinguish between the vast population of Muslim people who seek to live as people of peace from the very small number of Muslims who have been radicalized. We cannot be people who give in to fear.”
Many of the points made by the area religious leaders were repeated in capitals around the world. The Obama White House called Trump “a carnival barker” and denounced his proposal and rhetoric. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and French Prime Minister Manuel Valls condemned a campaign that “stokes hatred.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron, breaking a British custom of not commenting on U.S. presidential contenders, slammed Trump’s proposal as “divisive, unhelpful and quite simply wrong.”
And after a closed-door GOP caucus, House Speaker Paul Ryan said: “This is not conservatism. What was proposed yesterday is not what this party stands for, and more importantly it’s not what this country stands for.”
Ryan, who isn’t running for president, joined candidates including Jeb Bush and Lindsey Graham in denouncing Trump. Another candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, possibly angling to pick up support if Trump falters, said he disagreed with Trump’s proposal but praised Trump “for standing up and focusing America’s attention on the need to secure our borders.”
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, told Columbia station KOMU, “There’s a very real likelihood that talk of that type can make the situation worse, not better.”
And Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, said of Trump’s proposal, “I disagree with it. I question its constitutionality as well.”
But Brownback said that for security reasons he was sticking with his executive order that state agencies not help in any way if the federal government tried to settle Syrian refugees in the state.
Weeks before the latest Trump controversy, the issue of refugees, especially from Syria, had drawn the attention of churches in the region and across the country.
Three area Christian theological seminaries — Central Baptist in Shawnee, St. Paul in Leawood and Nazarene in Kansas City — sent a letter to Brownback and Nixon calling on them to “re-think your approach on whether Syrians are welcome in our states.”
And Central Baptist’s president, Molly Marshall, said her seminary was committed “to cultivating respect for the lived religion of others” and condemned “the bigotry of statements like the ones Donald Trump has made.”
The killings last week in California escalated anti-Muslim rhetoric, but also led to more religious outreach events such as the one at Rolling Hills. The pastor there, the Rev. Ted Pierce, said the interfaith group of leaders wanted to speak with one voice about the moral imperative to help refugees.
“This is who we are as a free people,” he said. “We must not allow fear, hate, discrimination and violence to win the day.”
The Rev. Donna Simon, the pastor at St. Mark Hope and Peace Lutheran Church at 38th and Troost, said she had preached the last three Sundays about what she called “the battle for the soul of Christianity.”
“The idea that we would have anything to do with barring refugees, in the name of Christ, is just mind boggling,” she said. “Syria is right next to Galilee … 20 miles from Nazareth.
“The level of racism and xenophobia Trump is channeling and some people are responding to is frightening,” she said, “similar to the ’50s and McCarthyism and the ’30s in Germany. … The overwhelming majority of people don’t feel remotely like what he’s expressing.”
Simon said she was heartened that Lutheran and Episcopal bishops in the region had jointly emphasized being welcoming, as have Methodist and Catholic leaders, once the government had procedures in place for accepting refugees. And she enjoyed a recent visit with her neighbors at the Al-Inshirah Islamic Center, the area’s oldest mosque, less than two blocks from her church on Troost.
Trump’s latest remarks also were cause for dismay — but not despair — in the area’s Muslim community.
Mahnaz Shabbir, an adviser to the Kansas City Interfaith Council and to the Muslim group the Crescent Peace Society, said
she believed good would always win out over evil in the end, and in the meantime she was encouraged by “how many supportive phone calls and emails I’ve gotten” in the wake of the California killings.
At the Islamic Center of Johnson County, the mosque’s secretary, Arif Ahmad, said Trump was showing his ignorance of Islam. But Ahmad said Trump’s comments, however misguided, provided another opportunity “to state openly, publicly, loudly that we are completely separate from these murderers, whether they are in Paris or Beirut of California.”
The Islamic Center, which is expanding, has a banner saying #NotInMyName at its construction site in south Overland Park. Ahmad said the center took up the campaign, started by Muslims in the United Kingdom, “and we made #NotInMyName T-shirts for our children. All the kiddos have that shirt.”
Ahmad said the center hoped to have an event or open house soon to thank people who had offered support and encouragement, and to answer any questions people had.
“Some people are spooked, and we understand that, because they do not know about our religion,” Ahmad said. “Questions are a good thing. A relationship begins with a question.”