Last week I received a phone call from a random, unkown person. When I picked up the phone, this fellow asked, “Is this Karen Leslie Hernandez?” I happily replied, “Yes, it is,” and he proceeded to say the following (and I am paraphrasing as best I can remember because after the first comment, my mind was reeling): “You are a Muslim-loving b-tch. Your whorish theology is an insult to my religion. You are not a Christian, but a pathetic excuse for what you call yourself.” At that last comment, I hung up.
I sat there thinking, Do I know this person? Did this person come up to me after a talk, or in class and didn’t agree with me? How did he get my number? It showed up on my phone as an unknown number, so when I tried to call back I heard, “...this number is not a reachable number.” Verizon could not tell me who it was and the police were helpful, but the number is untraceable. When I told the police officer that I have purposefully blocked anyone from finding me on 411, or in the phone book, he was very kind and very honest. “Ma’am,” he said, “If I wanted to, I could pay $70 and find you, your address, and your unlisted number in minutes on the internet.” That was sobering.
This is not the first time I have had something derogatory said or written about me. It first happened a few years ago when I gave a talk on Islamophobia. A local newspaper printed an article about my talk. A conservative website picked up the article and basically opened up me and my talk to criticism. Even though none of the people that made comments were present at my talk, they had plenty to say. “People like Hernandez are as common as cockroaches.” And my favorite, “Karen Hernandez should put a gun in her mouth and fire.” Three years ago when I first read these comments, it was very surreal. I sat at my kitchen table crying—it was scary, and I kept reminding myself that it was me that these people were writing about. It was me that these people were essentially threatening.
I did go to the police to see what they could do, which wasn’t much. Hate on the internet is hard to police, apparently. Out of this occurrence I decided to make a book entitled, “Karen’s Little Book of Hate.” In this book I have those comments and some others including a few that call me “poorly educated,” and that I won’t amount to much in this world. Those make me giggle.
I open this book every so often to remind me of why I do this work. There’s a lot of anger out there. I can’t change that, but I can just keep doing what I do. I will not let some random guy who calls me with so much hate and gender bias by calling me a “b-tch” and my theology “whorish” beat me. I will not let hate win.
I will admit that the phone call scared me. My good friend said she was surprised that I didn’t say something to this guy. She said the fiery Karen she knows would have got angry and not just hung up. I considered this, and realized that if it had been a woman, I probably would have said something, but because it was a man, and because he used derogatory words specifically targeted at my gender, I reacted with fear instead. This was interesting to note and helped me this last week gain strength from that, instead of harboring fear.
What irritates me is that for the most part, these comments and threats have come from fellow Christians, as if my theology does not meet their approval. I never asked for my theology to meet with anyone’s approval and I certainly don’t state anywhere that one must believe what I believe. I am not sure why these people feel they can attack me in this way. It is perplexing to say the least. I am who I am because this is how God made me. Just as God made the rest of us. I may not agree with someone’s theology, her philosophy, or her understanding of the world, but I would never think of emailing someone, or threatening someone, or calling someone to tell them in hateful ways that I don’t agree. I find this disturbing and more, invasive.
This man called me a "Muslim Loving B-tch.” What is that, anyway? I advocate for the 99% of Muslims around the world who do not adopt an extremist theology. This, I feel, is a good thing. I have Muslim friends from all over the world. This, again, is a good thing. As a devout Christian I love the Islamic religion and see the beauty of a people who are faithful, giving, and loving. This, again, is a good thing. My theology is not "whorish," it is mine, and it certainly is not an insult to the Christian religion. If anything, it is an asset.
The Ninth Commandment states, “You shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” I would like to think that is for all our neighbors – our Muslim, Hindu, Black, White, Brown, Jewish, poor, rich, Jain and Buddhist neighbors. I would like to think this simply is inclusive of every human being on the planet. God doesn’t exclude, so what gives humans the right to exclude?
My theology is inclusive in that I see the value of all human life, not just those that follow my religion. My theology allows me to be accepting, tolerant, loving, interested, recognizing, and reverent. My theology lets me see the beauty of all religions as important to those that practice, and this in turn helps me see my religion better and through a different lens. My theology is mine. It belongs to no one else but me.
To the man who called me: I am saddened by the anger you have not only for me, but for Muslims around the world. While I cannot understand it, I have compassion for you because the same theology you abhor in me calls me to love you and all of humanity. In fact, it is people such as yourself that drive me to do what I do. In that, I thank you for your call. Although it initially scared me, it affirmed and re-affirmed my call to this work of mine a thousand times over.
I am sure as I continue to move through this world and my work as a theologian grows, I will encounter more anger, more hatred, and more challenges. This is an unfortunate reality but I am up for that, because in the end, I win. I will be shaken to the core a bit, like last week, but then I will pick myself up, shake off the hate, and I will move forward with that in my mind. That hate and anger will make me stronger.
I will continue to move forward in my love of humans everywhere, my love of religion, my desire to understand, and my love of what makes us as humans ponder our spirituality and God. For it is in this wonderment that we all seek our truth and our understanding. It is in that seeking that I learn and grow. It is in the abhorrence that I find strength.
Photo courtesy of wikimedia.org and can be found at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hate_zh.svg