“I had been part of the problem of Islamophobia”: Pastor Danny Cortez On This New Era

The following is an exclusive excerpt from Kaleidoscope, a podcast featuring conversations on religion with the people often left out of conversations on religion and politics hosted by Deborah Jian Lee. As each new episode is released, Religion Dispatches will be featuring special remarks from the show’s guests that reveal how their worldview has changed in this new era.

Conservative evangelical pastor, Danny Cortez, changed his mind on LGBTQ equality. The first person he told was his teenage son, Drew, who moments later came out as gay. That moment changed their lives forever and brought one of them close to death. In interviews with each of them, we learn about the triumphs and troubles that followed. (Subscribe and listen to the entire interview here.)

Danny was asked the same question posed to all of Kaleidoscope’s guests (read the other responses here):

What is one of the biggest transformations that has occurred for you in this new era?

This past year we’ve seen so much anti-Muslim rhetoric and so much fear in the Muslim community. It’s been important for me and my church to connect with them. So, shortly after the election, I reached out to a local imam and was invited to a prayer service. I wanted to show them physically that people of faith, especially those who claim to be Christian, weren’t against them and would stand with them in this climate.

When I was invited to come to the mic, I made a confession. I confessed that, in the past, I had been part of the problem of Islamophobia. I had negative attitudes toward them. But then I realized that I’d been wrong. On behalf of my conservative community, I acknowledged the harm we had done to them and said I was so sorry for their experiences as Muslim people living in this country.

This community was so gracious. They showed me what it looks like to reach across the divide. My message was well received and so many people came up to talk to me afterward. They even wished me “Merry Christmas” and I thought, wow, they can actually say “Merry Christmas” knowing I’m a Christian in their own space and recognizing it doesn’t alter their own beliefs. Since then, they’ve invited my church to potlucks. We talk. We listen. And we strive to grow in our relationship.

I still remember listening to one of the parents talk about how her daughter was afraid of school. Other kids were saying, “Now that Trump is president, you’d better watch out because we’re coming after you.” This is the kind of stuff we’re going to be hearing about more and more. There’s just so much fear in their community. I know if they ever ask us to rally or take a stand with them, we will be there.