The murder of 6 Sikhs gathered for worship in Wisconsin on Sunday was followed today by an arsonist torching a mosque in Joplin, Missouri. This comes just a few months after a man threw a Molotov cocktail into a Queens, New York mosque while worshipers were at prayer – and burning one Muslim owned business and two Muslim owned homes on the same night.
It should be sufficient for Christians to remember that we follow the victim of religious violence, not a perpetrator of it. But if that is not enough, the history of religious intolerance in the Western World, the crimes that have been committed in our name, mean that Christians have a special moral duty to stand against violence of any kind but especially violence against faith communities. That is our calling, but when one of our priests announced that she would be attending a 9-11 reconciliation service at an Islamic Center last year, members of the congregation walked out.
It is not enough for Episcopalians to look at hate crimes committed by “those people” against ‘those other people” and say, “tsk, tsk.” In the face of growing bigotry and violence, sometimes accompanied by ignorance that cannot tell a Sikh from a Muslim, we have a duty to act in the following ways:
First we must educate our own people. We need to know the truth about the world religions. There are plenty of good texts to use, starting with the Huston Smith classic, World Religions, and more recent books like Bowker’s World Religions: The Great Faiths Explored And Explained or Brodd’s World Religions: A Voyage Of Discovery. Or use a video such as Beyond Our Differences or Pillars of Faith. (You can buy it from Amazon and watch it with a group from a different religion).
But Christians need to do more than know what other religions teach. We need to know what Christianity teaches about the inconvenient truth that other people worship the same God in other ways. For this, a good starter would be Gordon Kaufman’s God, Mystery, Diversity. We need to know how to honor other faith traditions not in denigration of our own beliefs but because of them.
Second – this is really two things but the best way is to do them together -- we need to form personal relationships with people of other faiths and join hands with them in working for our communities and our world. Nevadans for the Common Good (Southern Nevada) and ACTIONN (Northern Nevada) are prime examples of how we can befriend each other while uniting for a more just and merciful world.
Third, we must take public stands against religious intolerance. If we do not do so, then non-violent people will turn their backs on us and rightly so.