Some of us know very personally how hurtful and dangerous it is to be a target of prejudice. We know how frustrating it is when an individual or a group within our larger community does something wrong and all of us are blamed even if we disagree with the action. We know that hate does not heal hate and fear does not heal fear.
So we, in particular, ought to be uneasy when we hear public leaders, religious and political, calling for the expulsion of Muslims from the US, and/or for blocking Muslims from coming into the US. Decency, compassion, and a memory of history calls us to speak out when entire communities are targeted, marginalized, or vilified. We, who are religious, must also value the FREEDOM of religion. Freedom of religion is not the freedom to impose our religious values, but to worship as we choose (if we choose to worship at all).
In my parents' lifetime, Jewish people were denied entry into some countries where they might have been safe while Jews en masse were being incarcerated, tortured and killed in Europe. In my parents' lifetime, American born people of Japaneses descent lost their homes and livelihoods in this country as they were rounded up and incarcerated for no reason other than sharing a heritage with a political enemy. In my parents' lifetime, there was a great deal of anti-Catholic rhetoric when the first Roman Catholic won the presidency. And in my lifetime, there were several states where every act of love or romance shared between persons of the same gender was a criminal act.
We who know the pain of being targeted simply for being who we are cannot be silent when other groups are treated so unjustly. Even Jesus, whom Christians wish to follow, had to endure the insulting question, "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" Isn't it time to dispense with the rhetoric of hate and exclusion?
And so, not only do I feel the obligation to name the problem of racist and xenophobic slurs coming from some leaders (and I am thankful for those leaders who openly reject such rhetoric), but I also feel the need to ask all who would be faithful to resist such rhetoric as well. There are frightening events in our world, and we do want to respond to violence and terrorism, but blaming those who have not participated in acts of terror will not keep us safe...it will only cause pain for the innocent.
In response to divisive, fear mongering rhetoric, I offer the following prayer. It is in times of challenge that we must cling to our highest ideals and best principles, and prayer can help us do just that. Let us pray:
God of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar,
God of Isaac, Rebecca, and Ishmael,
God of the East and of the West,
God of Jews, Christians, and Muslims,
God of all life, all love, all hope, and all compassion,
We see acts of violence done in your name by people of various religions,
and we hear public voices condemning religions rather than seeking to hold
individuals that blaspheme their religion with violence accountable for their reprehensible actions.
But we who are of Irish or Italian or Mexican descent,
We who are of African or Caribbean descent,
We who are Jewish or Catholic or Mormon or Jehovah's Witnesses,
We who remember our mothers and grandmothers having to fight for the right to vote, to work, to have control over their own bodies,
We who are same-gender loving people,
We who are transgender or gender non-conforming,
We who had our Native cultures decimated or whose families were interred for their Japanese heritage,
We know that the language of bigotry is the language of fear, of hate, of division, and that no good thing comes from it.
And so, today, during this holy Season of Peace and Goodwill, we pray for our Muslim sisters and brothers, that groups that dishonor their faith by using it as an excuse to do violence will cease their troubling, and that those who refuse to distinguish between bad actors and an entire global community will be healed of their prejudices.
May we remember that in every religious tradition there are those who dishonor and misrepresent the tradition, including our own; but nevertheless, all people are the children of God, and religion, all religion, at its best seeks community, justice, compassion, generosity, and peace.
May we who have been demonized or dehumanized in the past never resort to treating others in the ways that hurt us so deeply, even as we work and wait and wish for peace and justice in all the world.
In the spirit of our common humanity,
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins