Following teachings of inclusion, compassion a choice that needs to be made
Last year on Sept. 11, I witnessed people from Jewish, Christian, Muslim, secular, and other backgrounds come together to restore native habitat, care for veterans, support refugees, and promote healing on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
How different is that image from this year’s accounts of violent attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya, and from the insensitive video that preceded it.
The Council on American Islamic Relations got it right in their condemnation of the killings of the American diplomats, “We must not let extremists control the political or religious discourse. That means that people of all beliefs should repudiate those who would commit acts of violence in response to intentional provocations and repudiate those whose only goal is offending religious sentiments.”
We must stop this cycle of violence and hatred.
I am grateful for that the world’s religious and moral traditions have teachings that affirm respect and understanding.
For example, how did Jesus teach his followers what it means to love their neighbor? By praising the acts of the Good Samaritan—a member of a religious and ethnic group at odds with Jesus’ own Jewish community.
In Islam, the Qur’an teaches that God made humanity “into tribes and nations that you may know one another” (al-Hujurat 49:13). Not only does this verse affirm that diversity is God’s will, it also declares that our response should be understanding.
The history of the Jewish people is marked by recurring persecution, but instead of repeating this legacy of oppression, the Torah teaches, “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 22:21).
As I look for a response to violence of the murders and the intolerance of the film that preceded them, I keep returning to the words of the Buddha, “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
My goal is not to say that all the religions are the same. Nor is my goal to imply that only people of faith affirm religious tolerance. While there is no atheist equivalent to the Bible for me to quote, many atheists and agnostics affirm the right of all people to hold and follow their beliefs without coercion.
My point is that even as acts of intolerance, disrespect, and hatred dominate the headlines, we all have the choice to follow the teachings of inclusion and compassion in our own traditions.
These calls for respect and understanding are easy to cite; they are harder to live. We are fortunate in Ann Arbor to have so many people who strive to put these teachings into practice. Here are just a few examples:
- Our local Habitat for Humanity chapter organized a “House of Abraham” interfaith build to bring people from different faiths together to provide low-income housing.
- St. Clare’s Episcopal Church, Temple Beth Emeth (a Jewish Synagogue), and Muslim Social Services collaborate to address hunger through the Back Door Food Panty.
- Jewish Social Services has helped resettle many Iraqi Muslim refugee families with housing, job, and language support.
In my own work with Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice, I bring people from different faiths and backgrounds together to work for social change. When I stand at the Capitol with a priest and an imam calling for an inquiry into U.S.-sponsored torture, I rejoice not only in the work to promote human rights, but also that this cooperation promotes tolerance and inclusion.
These efforts inspire hope in me, but I know better to get complacent. Just more than a year ago a Muslim woman in Ann Arbor was assaulted with a gun and told, “You're a terrorist. Your people should be killed.” Yes, it’s a problem here, too.
When we face assaults like the one last year and murders like the one last week, understanding and respect can seem impossible. But we can find hope in those who are reaching across differences to make a difference, we can find guidance in our own varied traditions, and together we can make a difference.
Chuck Warpehoski is the director of the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice.