US priest issues plea for cultural sensitivity

An interior view Sept. 12 shows damage to the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where the previous day U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other embassy staff were killed in a rocket attack on their car by protesters angry over a film that ridiculed Islam’s prophet Mohammed. (CNS photo/Esam Al-Fetori, Reuters)

Since 1977, Maryknoll Father Doug May has spent 20 years in the Middle East — primarily Egypt. So when protests over an anti-Muslim film heated up in Cairo and other cities, he tried to help Americans balance freedom of speech with an understanding of what it means to Muslims to depict the prophet Mohammed.

“Mohammed in Islam is forbidden to be ‘imaged’ in any way except with his face covered, so adverse are Muslims to any image of God or any person for fear that the image itself might be worshipped,” he wrote in an article for Arab West Report.

“In our world of ‘political correctness,’ it is generally no longer acceptable to make fun of or ridicule: people of color, women, gays, Jews, Catholics, Hispanics, Poles, Italians, Germans, etc. Yet it is still ‘open season’ to depict Arabs as ‘rag heads’ and Muslims as ‘terrorists,’” he wrote.

“Cultural sensitivity must include religious and social sensitivity,” he added.

I met Father May at the Maryknoll house in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2011. He combines a sense of humor and pragmatism with a deep love of Egypt and its people. One paragraph in his essay reflects those attributes:

“Before coming to the Arab-Muslim world for the first time in 1977, could I laugh at this film, watching Mohammed look like a fool? Probably yes, just as I laughed at Jesus and John the Baptist in ‘The Life of Brian.’ However, as a priest, would I feel free to ‘juggle’ the Body and Blood of Christ at the altar during Mass as if I were performing in a circus act? NO! It just isn’t done! If I was short of toilet paper, would I resort to tearing out pages of the Hebrew or Christian Scriptures in a time of need? NO! It just isn’t done. So, is burning the Quran, desecrating the Quran and insulting Mohammed OK? NO! It just isn’t done by anyone who is aware and sensitive to Muslims and respectful of Islam.”

Father May said that, in the interest of freedom of speech, he would defend the “theoretical right” of someone to make the film, but he said depicting “Mohammed as a sex-crazed simpleton” was “a classic example of going too far while hiding behind the concept of freedom of speech and hiding under the rock of unadulterated bigotry.” He said it also places local Christians in the terrible situation of “guilt by association.”

“If motive and premeditation can be proven, I would challenge the U.S. government to arrest and convict the makers and distributors of this film,” he said. “I would suggest that Muslims, along with moderate Christians and Jews, take the filmmakers and distributors to court and sue them for ‘inciting violence’ if such a cause exists in civil law.”

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22 Responses to US priest issues plea for cultural sensitivity

  1. hermittalker says:

    I agree with the sentiments, but the Catholic Church in the USA is regularly treated to insulting jokes, cartoons, columns and humor and disgraceful art work- recall the Crucifix in urine – that is most ignorant and disrespectful. There is a need for inclusive sensitivity.

  2. Simone "Timmie" Wolf says:

    We need to pray for peace in the Middle East!!
    Timmie Wolf

  3. Duane Lamers says:

    I agree with hermittalker. I have yet to hear an American cleric offer criticism of “religious misbehavior” directed against Christians.

    The very fact that Muslims would react violently against any non-Muslims in their midst merely because of what someone in some faraway place has done is an indictment of those Muslims themselves.

    Where do we ever find criticism of this behavior by “our own,” other than in conservative circles?

  4. Loren says:

    What would Jesus do? I asked myself this question. Did he stand up and resist against the soldiers on the way to Calvary? What kinds of insults, blasphemies, indifferences, disrespects, strips of dignity did He and still does have to endure? Let’s look at ourselves and pray for our brothers and sisters and maintain that divine peace within us. Let’s continue to hope and persevere because the Lord’s coming will reveal all.

  5. TLM says:

    Fr. May is an example of liberal political correctness enshrined as modern Catholic teaching. It is exactly the sort of nonsense for which Maryknoll has become famous over the past 40 years. Where was he when hundreds of innocent Catholics were butchered thus year in Egypt, Libya, and Iraq? Where was he when museums and galleries exhibited the art of a crucifix immersed in urine and a Blessed Virgin made from elephant dung? Where was he when an autistic child in Pakistan was almost executed for blasphemy on evidence fabricated and planted by a Muslim mullah?

  6. howie says:

    cant u all see what is going on this is a huge religion war that means we about to loose all of our relgious freedom some crazy people do something to cause problems and it become a world wide and they do not want to stop and due to there nonsense they will not stop because they are trying to kill all of our relgious freedom and that is not good we all should have a right to freedom of how to worship when to worship where to worship but people are destroying it because of there nonsense behavior as a world wide we all need to speak up before it to late and save this freedom we all got to work together and protect what we have our constitution and freedom before it all get destroyed and it look like we are running out of time fast it getting worse someone need to get there heads together and stop this before we go under we already lost our economy as it is LET NOT LOOSE OUR CONSTITUTION AND FREEDOM

  7. howie says:

    meaning loosing religion of freedom about to be lost because of this huge war on relgion over in the middle east they are destorying it fast and furious meaning SUNDAY LAW about to happen get ready and hang on i guess jesus is nearing to come people just cannot use there brains and stop this war they got to be so violent and out of control that is just got to loose everyone freedom someone need to get there head together and stop this before it get to late all of this is nonsense we need our freedom for everyone let SAVE THIS before it too late we already lost our economy let not loose our freedom

  8. LoneThinker says:

    The tendency now is to re-define religious liberty as a right to practice one’s faith freely. That is fine to a point, but we need to see it as the US Founders did, do not ram an official version of the Christian Faith on all as was Jefferson’s accomplishment in VA and wrote it into the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.China is a business partner, and a Bank for the USA therefore we do not get on to them.The Founders’ dilemma today is an a-theistic or a-gnostic culture that denies or ignores a God-claim on the Government and a hostility to those who insist there is.

  9. Franc wright says:

    May I ask why we have to bow down to Islam a very satanic religion, that is bent on destroying every Jewish person and every Christain.

  10. LOTR says:

    Fr. May’s position and comments are completely contrary to Catholic magisterial teaching.

    There is no “theoretical right” to freedom of speech as he has the incredible gall to claim. Freedom of religion, as Pope Benedict XVI stated only this week, is a a fundamental, real, and practical right guaranteed to all men. In the U.S. it is guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution which in turn secures in positive human law a God-given, divine right to all human beings created as images of God. Fr. May wants to restrict and oppose this absolute, fundamental, divine right when it impinges on his personal prejudices and preferences. Let’s call this what it is: tyranny, despotism, and heresy.

    He also claims that criticism of Mohammend is “unadulterated bigotry”. Mohammed is described and held univerally by Islam as a 6th century A.D. “prophet” of a religion that denies the existence of the Most Holy Trinity, denies that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, denies that Mary is the Mother of God and perpetually Virgin, mocks and derides the Crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ, and denies that the Lord Jesus Christ is the sole and exclusive Savior and Redeemer of the human race. Does Fr. May stand with Mohammed the blasphemer, heretic, apostate, and fraud or with the perennial and unchanging Truth of the Catholic Faith that. in the words of the Epistle of St. John, that he who denies Jesus Christ come in the flesh as the Son of God is the anti-Christ and a blasphermer? For 1,400 years the Catholic Church and Catholic Europe have resisted to the point of blood at Tours, Lepanto, and Vienna to defend these precious divinely revealed truths against the vicious attacks of Islam. Let’s call Fr. May for what he is: Fr. May is a Judas priest.

    Finally, Fr. May, in the abounding excess of his tolerance, charity, and love of diversity, wants, in his words, to “challenge the U.S. government to arrest and convict the makers and distributors of this film.” Oh, I see, tolerance, charity, and diversity are for liberal ideologues like Fr. May. For all others, Fr. May is an ardent fascist who advocates, in the free-speech public press no less, oppressing and imprisoning those who disagree with him. Let’s call Fr. May for what he is: a hypocrite and an oppressor.

    Fr. May, you are a fraud and one of the wolves in sheeps’ clothing who as Our Lord Jesus warned break into the sheepfold to slaughter and destroy.

  11. LoneThinker says:

    It is irrational words like these that show the need for the Pope to meet with Islamic leaders and Jewish and Anglicans and why the Second Vatican Council called for dialogue, that is, two-way conversations. Why@ because we all carry nutty ideas around in our heads about each other. Islam, as was Christianity, and as some Christian branches still do, is used by some as offensive, divisive and as weapon of hatred rather than instrument of peace. Forget about our bloody and warring past, and apply today’s sensibilities to Islam as we ask them to see Christianity and the West more rationally. Not all Muslims are hate-filled Satanists. Also try to read the history of the establishment of ISRAEL from their eyes- Arabs dumped out with no provision for their participation in the new State of Israel, and the West’s allowing that to fester with aid, and one-sided diplomacy, courting Israel, afraid to push them to stop harassing all Palestinians because of the militancy of the minority. Dialogue, not two people talking over each other, but listening, and praying and really hearing each other.

  12. loch says:

    The article only present a view and a proposal to be sensitive to the belief of others. It calls us to inculturate ourselves to the understanding of others. Yes, there has been numerous attack on our faith and the sacred things that we hold dear, but because of our love of Christ, we do not react as barbarians to this bad act against ourselves. I get very frustrated when other people, especially the liberal media attack our church, but I will see them to who they are, and the intention that drives them.

    Fr. May has worked in Egypt for many years, thus he live in a culture that is far different from our own. We need to develop within our understanding the Catholic teaching on Missiology, where one can move outside of our comfort zone to understand other cultures and behavior that is foreign to us. Having said this, I firmly believe that the reaction of Muslim in the past weeks were barbaric and disgusted. I myself have been transformed by the Eucharist, where Christ love is to be revealed in us.

  13. Franc wright says:

    Lone thinker you sound like Chamberland before WWII

  14. LoneThinker says:

    You may be right Mr Wright but I do not understand the parallel. I would appreciate your specific corrections I could make to my analysis of today’s reality. Thanks for taking the time to dia-logue, as in have a two way chat, not an shot fired over the fence!

  15. Fr. Douglas May says:

    Since I seem to have ruffled some feathers, let me continue. Part of the problem may be due to the way my article was edited and placed on the CNS blog. Therefore, I am including the link to the actual article as printed on the Arab-West Report site:

    I have defended both the Vatican and the United States in articles I have written for the Arab-West Report over the last few months due to misreporting in the Arab press. I have tried to explain how the “other side” might view things to increase understanding, NOT bring about agreement. Back in 2003, I was asked to speak to a Manhattan parish where almost ever person attending had lost a friend and/or relative in the WTC on 9/11.

    It wasn’t easy to address this audience and it wasn’t easy for them to listen, but most tried to. I am not a liberal. I am someone who has given much of my adult life to encourage interreligious encounter (not dialogue). I just returned from Upper Egypt where several of my former Egyptian seminarians made me very proud of their efforts as priests to promote improved understanding and relationships between Egyptian Christians and Muslims.

    If the entire article had been printed, I didn’t excuse insults and violence by anyone. In fact, I have gone so far as to say that insults and violence over the “purity of our pedigrees” is an offense against God without exception. One responded that Jesus was the object but not the subject of violence. Another mentioned “What would Jesus do?” I think Jesus would be disgusted with many of us who cry out “Lord, Lord!” while trampling on His Two Great Commandments. The world has become too small for small-minded persons whether they be Christian, Muslim, Jewish, etc.

    Attack me if you will. I stand by the COMPLETE text that was edited. Is it “liberal” or “heretical” to give ones life to promoting justice, peace and mutual respect? I will leave that answer as a question: What would Jesus do and say if he were to respond to this film?

  16. Pancho Robles says:

    Question, Fr. May: Did Christ “dialogue” when the devil tempted Him
    and asked that He bow down? That just might answer your question,
    “What would Jesus do?”

  17. LoneThinker says:

    Read the Gospel and read the VATICAN 11 Documents. We are human beings, we are obligated to be fully human, have dialogue, which is literally two way conversations. That is not possible with all, but the history of the Church shows us savage barbarians who came to destroy and were eventually converted. THE HOLY SPIRIT is in charge, we are His willing instruments if we use our human intelligence and are open. BTW- Jesus did talk with the DEVIL and answered him with BIBLE quotes!!

  18. Fr. Douglas May says:

    “Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions”, Vatican II, Nostra Aetate, 28 October, 1965, Article 3.

    “The Church has also a high regard for the Muslims. They worship God, who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has also spoken to men. They strive to submit themselves without reserve to the hidden degrees of God, just as Abraham submitted himself to God’s plan, to whose faith Muslims eagerly link their own. Although not acknowledging him as God, they venerate Jesus as a prophet, his virgin Mother they also honor, and even devoutly invoke. Further, they await the Day of Judgment and the reward of God following the resurrection of the dead. For this reason they highly esteem an upright life and worship God, especially by way of prayer, alms-deeds and fasting.

    Over the centuries many quarrels and dissentions have arisen between Christians and Muslims. The sacred Council now pleads with all to forget the past, and urges that a sincere effort be made to achieve mutual understanding; for the benefit of all men, let them together preserve and promote peace, liberty, social justice and moral values.”

  19. hermittalker says:

    The reality is as a recent guest on R ARROYO’s EWTN The World OVER TWO programmme said- as an advisor to the US House, the rise of extreme jihadists is so powerful now dialogue is not reasonable with them, As well as that the secularist- atheism in practice of the USA toward them all and the continued drone attacks which kill the non-combatants is making it so much worse.,

  20. Norm Chouinard says:

    Renowned scholars Robert Spencer and Peter Kreeft engage in discussion and debate on the topic “The only good Muslim is a bad Muslim”.

  21. Calvedin Hishands says:

    Dear Brothers and Sisters please take time to watch and read the history of the Holy Rosary, and compare to the times we are living today. Now more than never before, we should be guarding our
    souls and unite ourselves in prayers. The problem with Islam is
    not just an attack on other religions, the worst attack is against
    Family as the most important institution in any form of government!
    Please research what inmunizations are doing to our children!
    I see the hands of the spiritual enemy in all that is going on against peace! I have lots of friends who are muslims and they have gone to church with me, However, I have refused to go to a mosque with them and the friendship is still alive and well by the grace of God.
    Pray the Rosary now more than never before! Remember watch on youtube the history of the Rosary. Research and pray some more!

  22. Giovanni says:

    While the production of the film in question needs a response, such a response need not come at the expense of a rightful, genuine and appropriate response to the witnessed reaction by persons professing the Islamic faith to the said production of the film. Invoking tolerance to chastise the filmmaker seems an outright double standard, that is, if we do not hold the persons professing the Islamic faith to the similar standard. The focus of a measured response, pragmatically, should be on the persons professing Islam and not the film makers; and much less the US government or US citizens.

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