Congressman Keith Ellison started life outside the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant English-Speaking Straight mainstream. He is African-American, and he was raised as a Catholic.
Many people who find themselves out of the mainstream swim desperately toward it. They seek the shelter and comfort of conformity.
At the age of 19, Keith Ellison converted to Islam. He has raised his four children within Islam. He explained it this way: “When I looked at my spiritual life, and I looked at what might inform social change and justice in society . . . I found Islam.”
Converting to Islam is perhaps not the best way to further political aspirations in America today. But in Keith Ellison’s case, it shows the courage of his convictions.
When Keith Ellison was sworn into Congress, he took the oath of office with his hand on the Koran – specifically, Thomas Jefferson’s personal copy of the Koran. And remember, he’s a Muslim; what did you expect him to put under his hand, “Green Eggs and Ham”? (That would definitely not be halal.)
And that’s when the hating started. The poorly-named Congressman Virgil Goode from Virginia bleated: “If American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office, and demanding the use of the Koran.” It’s interesting to think about what kind of immigration policy would have kept Keith Ellison’s ancestors out, since they arrived in America in chains.
Glenn Beck, then on CNN, invited Keith Ellison on his show, and asked this not-so-perspicacious “question”: “Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.” Keith responded with a quiet dignity utterly foreign to that show: “I have a deep love and affection for my country.”
Think about how much easier it would have been for Keith Ellison to change his religion not to Islam, but to Protestantism, and to go along, and to get along, and to try to fit in. But that just wouldn’t be Keith Ellison. He draws his strength, and his courage, from not being just like everyone else.
Keith Ellison understands that the things that make us special are not the things that make us the same – they’re the things that make us different. That our differences are not something to overcome, or even to tolerate, but something to cherish.
Keith Ellison is facing a primary next Tuesday. I hope that you will support his campaign. Because the mere existence of Congressman Keith Ellison represents a very important principle:
E Pluribus Unum.