Posts Tagged ‘religious freedom’

Tonight is the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and the start of the High Holy Days.  Tomorrow, September 9, is the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting in the Islamic calendar.  Tomorrow is also — at least for some Christian groups — a National Day of Prayer.  All this occurs as the debate over whether to build a mosque and community center in New York continues to rage, and as a minister in Florida declares that, on September 11, he will publicly burn copies of the Qu’ran.

At a time when there is so much division and so much hate in our world, why would someone choose to carry forward an act of aggression under the veil that this is freedom of speech?  One’s right to speak is not questioned here…but an act of such condemnation and negativity will only stir more division; burning these holy books is not above freedom of speech, the act flies in the face of another major Right of this country:  freedom to worship.  Even our top Generals in Afghanistan have spoken out against the announced burning of Qu’rans, saying it will feed violence in the region and put our troops in grave danger.

Under the guise of knowing what is ‘right’ or the word of God, we can sometimes mis-step.  But can any loving God, any caring God — however that God might be defined — support such an act as burning the book that a major faith group finds most holy?  We have moved beyond the vision of “sinners in the hands of an angry God,” and surely, we must believe that God will hold and love us all.

In major cities, interfaith groups of religious leaders are coming together to affirm this idea, again and again, saying that the act in Gainesville which is proposed to commemorate a horrible day in the life of America is not an act that we support and affirm. Many more of us must take to the streets and public squares throughout our country, to join these faith leaders to stand, in these most holy days, on the side of love.  Whatever we perceive as having been done in earlier days, let us not meet such painful memories with more violence and aggression.

Today I had lunch with my cousin, a rabbi from the Chicago area, and asked him whether his son, also a rabbi who serves in the Boston area, would be preaching about these subjects in his sermons this week.  “Absolutely,” was the response.  There are lessons to be learned, there is an olive branch to be grasped, and there is, most of all, renewing love to be shared.

As some faith traditions prepare to turn a new page in the Book of Life, we have an opportunity:  to choose love over hate, connection over separation, and friendship and respect over condemnation and division.  Let us choose love, over and over again.

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It’s happening again.  A hate organization that calls itself a church is coming to Lexington to demonstrate in front of another religious organization.  This time they’ve targeted a large nondenominational Christian church, although past visits have picketed Baptist, United Church of Christ, and Unitarian Universalist churches and a synagogue as well as the town public schools.

And this time — as has been the case for the last three or so visits — this “church” and its hate-mongers will be greeted by a non-violent interfaith group of silent people acting as a human shield around the congregation being targeted.

The ‘church’ says it is picketing the targeted congregation in order “to remind this nation that paying false prophets to lie about God will send you to Hell!”  They’ll then move on to picket another congregation in Boston, then they’ll picket in front of a hotel where a benefit dinner is being held, and then on Monday,they’ll stand in front of a Boston school.  Thanks for coming, folks.

I’m not sure why Lexington, Massachusetts has been getting so much attention from this group – we’ve guessed that it’s because the Revolutionary War is said to have started in our town, on the Battle Green right in front of the congregation I attend, First Parish in Lexington, Unitarian Universalist.  They are probably further provoked by the commitment of Lexington’s town government and education department to affirm all people, all families, all faiths.

Whatever the reason, these folks picked the wrong town.  If they seek to intimidate, they should look elsewhere.  We’re fortunate to have a very active and dedicated set of interfaith organizations – drawn from faith communities, government, and the community – who have responded to hate, over and over, with love, peacefulness, and steadfastness, to form human shields around buildings being picketed.

The ‘church’ generally arrives with bullhorns and offensive signage, and their goal is to provoke a confrontation and gain attention.  Instead, the good people of Lexington are committed to their non-violent response of turning their backs on the picketers, joining hands, and forming a ring of love and protection around a targeted space.  These ‘shields’ don’t speak, and they remain in position until the ‘church’ goes away.  The local police department have shown wonderful support as well in making sure that violence and confrontation do not erupt.

My faith tradition encourages people to ‘stand on the side of love.’  Other faith traditions, and those that support equality for all people, regardless of race, religion, family structure, or income, have responded similarly.  Fear and loathing are what the people of this ‘church’ preach.  That is not the religion I affirm, and on June 6, I trust that once again, the people who live in the cradle of liberty will proudly act on their belief in equality for all and freedom of religion throughout the land.

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