We remain resolved to reject extreme ideologies that perversely misuse religion to justify indefensible attacks on innocent people and to embrace persons of all religions, including our Muslim neighbors, and to welcome refugees seeking safety.
Before 9/11 the average American knew little about Ramadan or sharia law. If asked about Islam most of us would have responded with a blank stare. But not anymore. Not only does every T.V. network have its Muslim expert, books on Islam have become best sellers, and of course pronouncements from candidates, intended to inflame audiences, have become common place.
It may come as a surprise but with this expanding interest in Islam one lesson we’ve learned in the years since 2001 is that religious prejudice is not always rooted in raw ignorance. Some of the most vocal anti-Muslim critics know a great deal about Muslim beliefs. They also have a tendency to portray Islam in the worst possible way. Embarrassingly for many of us, among the loudest such voices are perceived by the general public to be leaders within the Christian community, Franklin Graham and Pat Robertson to name two. Charles Kammer of Ohio’s College of Wooster says that Graham and Robertson have helped to fuel the rise of what he calls “Christo-Americanism” a distorted mixture of nationalism, conservative paranoia and Christian rhetoric. They have stirred a general climate of hatred and distrust toward Muslims.
In recent weeks an American Muslim shop keeper was shot three times as he opened his grocery store in Miami, Florida while in Meridan, Connecticut an Islamic center is riddled with bullets. A Muslim student at Wichita State University and his Hispanic male friend were told a man using racial slurs to “go home” and then he beat them. bullet holes were found in the front sign of the Islamic Society of North America headquarters and mosque in Plainfield, Indiana. After being vandalized with Nazi symbols on the exterior a Somali restaurant was set ablaze in Grand Forks, North Dakota. In Fort Bend, Texas a man posted images on social networks with an assault rifle and ammunition threatening to ‘shoot up a mosque’ and while supposedly speaking in Arabic a teenager who was walking with his brother in law outside of a gymnasium in Huntington Beach, California was stabbed by a police officer.
Here in the northwest the Islamic Center of Twin Falls, Idaho was vandalized. In Oregon an elderly Muslim man was killed after being attacked with a shovel, and a Buddhist monk was attacked by someone who apparently thought he was Muslim based on his clothing. In Lynwood, Washington a swastika and the word “ISIS” was scratched into the finish of a woman’s car. Redmond police received several calls threatening worshipers at a large Puget Sound mosque. After posting threats online against a mosque in North Seattle, and claiming to have an assault rifle and extra ammunition, a man was arrested at his home following a brief standoff with police. And here, in Spokane, the Sikh temple was vandalized by a man who officials say thought the temple was a mosque and that it was affiliated with terrorists and the Bosnia Herzegovina Heritage Association were threatened by graffiti on the walls where they celebrated Ramadan.
Religious intolerance is not a new feature of the American landscape. Quakers experienced it first hand as have Mormons, Roman Catholics and Native Americans. Despite our treasured First Amendment protection of religious liberty, we as a nation and as citizens have failed to live up to those ideals. The nine/eleven commission’s report said “At 8:46 on the morning of September 11, 2001, the United States became a nation transformed.” In the attempt to restore a sense of security we have traded off an extraordinary level of civil liberties for measures to protect us from attacks by indiscriminate terrorists. In the resulting war in Iraq over 4,400 of our people were killed and over 22,000 were maimed. Another ten thousand allied soldiers were wounded and over 100,000 Iraqis lost their lives in the conflict. According to the Congressional Joint Economic Cmte. the cost of the Iraq war to the U.S. treasury was $3.5 billion not including the ongoing interest we are still paying fifteen years later. And along with a great deal of inconvenience we are well past spending an additional $750 billion of Federal tax money on homeland security.
On this fifteenth anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center it couldn’t be more timely that our Education committee has invited us to consider Lloyd Lee Wilson’s pamphlet Radical Hospitality.
Our secular culture paints the world in which we live as dangerous and threatening and advises us that the whole purpose of the spiritual life is to escape. Popular religious culture tells us that we are engaged in a spiritual struggle with evil. When we ask how to be happy and secure in such a dangerous world we are told that that can be found in the acquisition of power, possessions and privileges. In his Pendle Hill Pamphlet Lloyd Lee Wilson reminds us that, at least for Quakers, we firmly believe that God’s intention for creation is inherently good and harmonious, as pronounced by God at the moment of creation. Such a view is quite contradictory to what the world and orthodox Christianity tells us. Lloyd Lee Wilson says that, for Quakers, the real question is “How are we to live in God’s creation, broken and troubled as it is?
He reiterates that as Friends we understand that the universe is, at heart, profoundly good and that the places where it appears evil are places of brokenness and distortion, places to which we are called to heal. Our faith isn’t an other worldly escapist religion.
What a challenge. How do we strengthen the capacity of the Church to engage in peace building and healing? Have we, as the Church, adopted peace making, healing and reconciliation as a major focus and goal? Have we decided to devote resources and energy to the peace building effort?
Our prevailing culture sees creation as inherently conflictual, dangerous, and zero sum: there is only so much of any good thing, so more for you means less for me. In this view the stranger is always a threat, an adversary and a competitor. Our faith says that in this inherently good and harmonious world the stranger is our friend, actually the incarnation of Christ and should be offered hospitality.
Fundamentally, what brings us together this week, like any other Sunday, is our faith in Jesus Christ and the service of God’s kingdom. We Quakers join with Pope Benedict XVI in saying “Love of God and love of neighbor have become one: in the least of the brethren we find Jesus himself and in Jesus we find God.” At the heart of our gathering is the essential biblical links between love of God and neighbor. This is a “formation of the heart” to unite in loving care for all our neighbors. Peacemaking is not an optional commitment but a requirement of our faith. We are called to be peacemakers, not by some movement of the moment, but by our Lord Jesus.
As we embrace and teach peace building, unfortunately, we must humbly confess that all to often there is a gap between the ideals we profess and how we conduct ourselves. The divisions and conflicts within our community and the wider society do find their way into the life of the church, with sometimes terrible human, moral, pastoral; and spiritual consequences. Without truth there is no reconciliation, and without reconciliation our world is trapped in endless cycles of revenge and retribution.
We understand that peace doesn’t consist simply in the absence of war or violence. The underlying causes of conflicts must be addressed. Peace can only be built on justice. People of faith must help and encourage one another to articulate, share and apply such teachings on peace building and its links to justice and human rights in our own communities and together. Another component of our peace building capacity is advocacy. U.S. foreign policy has a profound impact on the prospects for peace and reconciliation. It is critical that our corporate voices be heard in the halls of Congress. We also have to learn to collaborate with others who share this vision if we are to fulfill the declaration of Jesus to the multitudes gathered on the Mount: “Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called children of God.” By our work here to become better healers and peacemakers we become more fully God’s children.
On the tenth Anniversary of the events of September eleventh Fr. Timothy Dolan then president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops voiced this : “we remain resolved to reject extreme ideologies that perversely misuse religion to justify indefensible attacks on innocent civilians, to embrace persons of all religions, including our Muslim neighbors, and to welcome refugees seeking safety. We steadfastly refrain from blaming the many for the actions of a few and insist that security needs can be reconciled with our immigrant heritage without compromising either one.
Approved July 22, 2011 was this statement: New York Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends urges everyone to recognize this anniversary as an occasion to remember that there are always alternatives to violence and that there is a Spirit in every human being which responds with gratitude to these alternatives. The Religious Society of Friends has always upheld the way exemplified by Jesus, who taught us never to return evil for evil, but to love our enemies and pray for them, forgiving them every offense. We confess that we, being human, do not always fulfill this high standard. Nevertheless, we continually strive to discern the guidance of the living God who loves unconditionally, and extends unlimited compassion, comfort, mercy, guidance, grace and revelation to all who ask. We testify to the world that we disown all wars and fighting with outward weapons for any cause whatsoever. These are never necessary. There are no “just wars.” Among the weapons we renounce are the tongue and the pen, when these are used to provoke prejudice and hatred. Neither will we be silenced by fear when we are called to witness against evil masquerading as good. We seek to build a world in which a just peace is possible. We seek the strength to support and keep faith with those who suffer for nonviolent acts of conscience. We live by the gospel of God’s love for all. Join us.
Jesus taught us to never return evil for evil but to love our enemies and pray for them. We also remain resolved to reject extreme ideologies that perversely misuse religion to justify indefensible attacks on innocent people and to embrace persons of all religions, including our Muslim neighbors, and to welcome refugees seeking safety. That’s a tall order, living in a zero sum environment that prefers revenge to reconciliation and forgiveness. But, it is to that our faith calls us.