Pastoral Response to the

arrest of a teenage Muslim in Irving

 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Dear Friends,

Once again the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex is in the global media; again, the attention highlights the challenges of living in a ethnically- and religiously-diverse society. And again, God calls us to be witnesses of love and acceptance, modeling our actions and speech after our best understandings of God's nature as revealed in Jesus Christ and affirmed by the Holy Spirit.

On Monday a Muslim high school student in Irving was suspended for three days and arrested after bringing a homemade clock to school to show to his engineering teacher. According to the ninth grader, Ahmed Mohamed, the engineering teacher complimented him on his work but told him to not show it to other teachers. But when the alarm went off in English class and he showed the clock to that teacher, she was afraid it might be a bomb and reported him to school leaders. We was suspended and the police came to the school to question him, apparently him without the presence of a lawyer or his parents. He was then arrested and taken to a juvenile detention center. Earlier today the Irving Police Department reported that after a thorough investigation they would not be pressing charges against Ahmed. At the time of this writing the suspension has not yet been lifted.

There are many unanswered questions about this situation: Was bringing the clock to school against district policy? Would the clock have raised suspicion had the student not been Muslim? Were the suspension and arrest necessary? How do we insure the security of our schools without appearing to targeting minorities? In coming weeks these questions will certainly be taken up by lawyers on both sides of the situation.

Without attempting to answer those questions myself, I have two chief concerns about what has happened in Irving today. First, I fear that civil rhetoric about this and other issues surrounding Islam will devolve into prejudicial and stereotypical language. Irving was already the center of heated debate about the role of religion in society when earlier this year the city council narrowly voted to back a state house bill that was perceived as an attack on Islam by Muslim leaders in the city.

And second, the arrest of Ahmed Mohamed calls to mind a recent study from the University of Pennsylvania that shows that minority students are suspended from school at a disproportionally higher rate than their white counterparts. His arrest also reminded me of Community of Christ International Peace Award recipient Marian Wright Eldeman's Children Defense Fund campaign to end what they call the Cradle to Prison Pipeline in the United States. One in three black boys (and one in six Latino boys) born in 2001 is at risk of being imprisoned at some time in their lives.

The Enduring Principles of Community of Christ affirm that we believe each person is of inestimable and equal worth in the sight of God and that we are called to uphold and restore the worth of all people individually and in community by challenging unjust systems that diminish human worth. God's self-revelation in Christ is clear: like Jesus, we are called to draw people of a variety of ethnic groups and walks of life away from the margins and into community. As leaders and members of Community of Christ in our corner of the vineyard it may seem daunting to effect such huge changes in systems that thrive on division and distrust. So we must take a close look at our own daily interactions with others. Are we modeling the inviting and inclusive love of God in our words and deeds? Are we seeking to tear down walls and become shalom to our neighbors? Are we open to the power of the Spirit to create unity in the midst of diversity? Only then can we begin the much harder work of promoting justice, reconciliation, well-being, wholeness, and peace for all of creation.

I continue to pray for a growing spirit of respect and forbearance among the peoples of the earth.

May we as Community of Christ in north Texas continue to be an example of God's inclusive love.

In Christ,
Andy Shelton
President
Heart of Texas Mission Center
Community of Christ