Here is what can happen when we reach out across divides with solidarity, generosity, and integrity to bridge the distances. Here is what can happen when you follow through on good works.
Inspired by a letter written by a Unitarian Universalist minster and endorsed by many UUs and others representing multiple faiths in Utah, the church I am currently serving decided that they, too, wanted to do something about the rampant Islamophobia in our midst. Towards the end of last year the board decided to write a letter of solidarity to our Muslim neighbors and friends, adapting (with permission) the language of the letter from Utah.
Text of the letter:
Dear Muslim brothers and sisters,
At this time, when messages of hate are spreading throughout our country and the world, we reach out our arms to your communities and lift our voices in prayer for the well-being and safety of you and your loved ones. Our hearts are breaking as yours are over the tragic events of the past months and we abhor the disrespectful rhetoric that is being misguidedly directed towards Muslims. The seed of disrespect often blossoms into hatred and violence. Scapegoating has no place in our society. As people of faith, we affirm that we all belong to one another, and that the pain inflicted on one of us is felt by us all.
Our own voices echo the statement of Celene Ibrahim, M.Div., Islamic Studies Scholar in-Residence at Andover Newton Theological School & Hebrew College, “In the face of geopolitical crises that tear at the social fabric of neighborhoods, countries, and entire regions, it is essential—and urgent—that religious communities take conscientious steps to counteract hate and violence with hospitality, gratitude, and love. The way forward requires authentic collaboration and risk taking in order to build the necessary, durable bonds of trust that can withstand the strains that will inevitably be put upon them. We must band together to show that there is a non-violent way forward.”
We stand by you and your families and pray that together we can help turn this atmosphere of fear into one of love.
In faith and hope
We reached out to a Muslim colleague and professor of mine, who was kind of enough to give us a quote to use instead of the one from far away. We felt that it was important to have a local voice in the letter.
We made a large copy of the letter, printed on foam board. We invited the whole congregation – adults, youth, children – to read and sign it. The vast majority signed.
We posted it on the church’s Facebook page. The board member spearheading the effort shared ambitious plans to inspire others to do something similar. There was talk about trying to involve the youth in some way. There was talk about sending it out to Muslim neighbors and friends, not just posting it on a social media site hoping for the best.
Then, as so often happens, inertia set in.
For a long time, it got stuck in the “great idea but no further movement” stage that affects so many of our best-laid plans. Time slipped away. People got busy. The plans seemed perhaps too elaborate. So they got scaled back. Even though it was a worthy idea, taking the time to involve the youth this year in this way was just going to be a dead-end. Also abandoned: trying to inspire other local congregations to do something similar. At least for now.
- Identify local (statewide) Muslim organizations, both secular/cultural and religious.
- Send copies of the text of the letter, along with an image of the signed letter (in all its colorful glory) to numerous recipients.
Just yesterday, the congregation held its annual meeting. The minister touted all the good ministry during the year, including this letter-writing effort to bridge cultural and religious divides and to proclaim our solidarity with a community being hatefully marginalized.
In a later portion of the meeting, there was a round of applause for the chair of the board, but he was nowhere to be found. Someone said that he had just stepped out to take a phone call. No one gave this a second thought — he’s kind an over-committed kind-of-guy. The meeting went on about its business. A few minutes later the chair came back into the room. He asked for the floor. He wanted to share who had just called.
An imam. From a local mosque. Who had just met with his gathered folk. To whom he had read aloud the text of First Parish’s letter. And read as many of the individually hand-signed names as he could. To his people.
It was an electric moment in the room. Connection had been made real and known. An act of solidarity that was sent out and landed just where it was welcomed and needed. There it was, that interdependent web of our shared existence, showing its poignant, undeniable reality.
I do not know what will come of this new possibility – my time with this beloved congregation comes to a close in just a month. It will be up to them. This phone call offers a chance to develop a partnership. Or just, or also, a chance to be on the top of the list of peoples that this little mosque can call should their community come under threat, as so many have in these past years, and months, given the horrid, hateful rhetoric of too many presidential candidate(s) and far too many of their followers.
This is what I want to say – to myself as well as to any congregation I serve – let us always go beyond the feel-good moment, the photo opp, the Facebook post. Let us be social media savvy, but not stuck within its echo chamber. Let us pace ourselves, but also make sure that we follow through and build relationships. Let us not only write the letter, let us send it out. Far and wide.
No matter what happens, whether it’s a 21st century version of nationalist fascism or the weather disasters accompanying climate constriction, we need each other. It is as simple and complex as that. We need each other.