My jaw nearly slapped the ground when I read the words. They bellowed from Mark Coppenger, vice president for extension education and director of Southern Seminary’s extension center in Nashville, Tenn. Recently he sat on a panel that discussed the dilemma for evangelicals deciding whether to vote their values or their theology.
Thus spoke Coppenger:
“Sometimes I say Muslims can’t build cars but they can sure blow them up…Well, we can blow up candidates and we can blow up movies and we can blow up a variety of things, but can we build them? Can we build political engagement at the very best levels?”
Coppenger was trying to metaphorically explain the need for “evangelicals who believe the Bible correctly to be engaged and to be players, because it’s hard to complain when we’ve quit the field.”
News flash: metaphor failed.
After I read Coppenger’s quote, and subsequently picked my jaw up off the floor, I had to reach for my jaw again: this panel was convened on September 11. Of all days, of all times for someone to make an absurd quote about Muslims, that day was not the day.
Soon after these words were uttered, violence would explode in Cairo and Libya. Four Americans were killed, as well as Libyans. Though protests were initiated by those furious over a video, those killed were murdered by extremist Islamic factions that are as far from Islam as one can be.
I’m not sure why Coppenger decided it was necessary to reference Muslims blowing up cars. Though Coppenger is not alone in using this rhetoric, it saddens me that on a day of unity and hope he decided to reinforce vitriolic stereotypes. Coppenger would have done well to stick to the conversation about whether or not someone could vote for a Mormon.
This issue reveals his stereotypes. Among the many, one is that Muslims don’t build cars. Newsflash: Muslims build cars. Though exact statistical reporting does not exist, I’d be willing to bet there are at least two Muslims working at an auto manufacturing plant in the United States. In fact, one may have helped build the car Coppenger drove to the panel.
In the end, Coppenger’s remarks were incorrect, stereotyped, and fear-based. The “political engagement at the very best levels” he wants will not occur as long as leaders, such as him, disparage other religious identities.
Southern Seminary President Al Mohler said, “We’ve got to be clear that this is a false gospel…This is a belief system that we believe is taking people to eternal destruction.” Mohler was speaking about Mormonism. His quote might be more accurate used as a response to Coppenger’s statement. If that were the case, Mohler and I might finally agree on something.
In the Middle East, four Americans have died because of a world lacking love and tolerance. As we recognized another anniversary of September 11, we prepared to memorialize another event. As we remembered the lives of men and women lost fighting now unpopular wars, we remembered the lives lost of those working to pursue peaceful ends. On the world stage, and on a panel in Louisville, KY, we learned the hard way, yet again, that all too often love seems a distant dream.