Deacon Ian Punnett –
A dear Muslim friend of mine sent me an email last week lamenting the planned “anti-Islam rally/Muhammed cartoon contest” on Friday, May 29, at the Islamic Community Center in North Phoenix. I’m sure you heard about it. She wrote sarcastically, “What’s particularly comforting is that the protesters are making it exceptionally clear that they will be carrying guns. I really hope I am moving soon . . . ” As the time drew closer for the event, the organizer, former Marine Jon Ritzheimer, called for his biker friends to bring weapons. “People are also encouraged to utilize their Second Amendment right at this event just in case our First Amendment comes under the much anticipated attack,” Ritzheimer said.
I prayed for a miracle. Not the “suspension of natural law” kind of miracle, but just a smaller miracle by its original understanding: “An amazing little thing to see.”
Miracles came in many forms. The bikers’ plan to meet in a Denny’s parking lot near the ICCP was thwarted by the restaurant’s management that closed the location and asked the bikers to stay away. If Ritzheimer was hoping to create the same lethal mix that led to a biker shoot-out in Waco, Texas, on May 17, God had other plans. The local leader of the outlaw motorcycle club best known to the Phoenix Police Department said he had no interest in attending the rally in the first place and called the whole idea “stupid.” The miracles did not end there.
Along with hundreds of armed “anti-Islam” protesters who showed up for Ritzheimer’s coloring contest, hundreds of unarmed pro-religious freedom protesters of many faiths were present to support the mosque. I tried to get there too, but I never got that close. Phoenix PD had cut off so many roads and blocked out such a large perimeter around the event that by the time I fought through side streets and arrived, it was about a mile hike in a 103-degree sun from my parking space. By the time I got near the mosque, more people were leaving the area than going in. The police had kept the peace until the heat took over.
But perhaps the best miracle was not seen at all, only heard. On my way over, I was listening to News/Talk 92.3 KTAR’s balanced and thoughtful coverage of Ritzheimer’s lame and transparent attempt to “expose Islam” for being a violent religion. While I was listening, the calls poured in from Marines who wanted to distance themselves from Ritzheimer and self-identified Muslim callers who were treated with respect and apologies from the hosts. At the end of the day, the only one exposed for trying to create a “much anticipated attack” was Jon Ritzheimer himself.
Now the next miracle I am praying for is that my dear friend no longer feels the need to move from Arizona. That too would be an amazing little thing to see.
Rev. Ian Punnett (@deaconpunnett) is a PhD student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication/ASU in Phoenix, a seminary-trained deacon in The Episcopal Church, a former nationally syndicated broadcaster and author of “How to Pray When You’re Pissed at God.”