CBB partners were prominent among national leaders gathering today in a call for inter-religious understanding and an end to anti-Muslim bigotry in the United States.
Dr. Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North American (ISNA) was joined by CBB board member Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer, who directs multi-faith studies and initiatives at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, and by Rev. Richard Cizik of New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, as well as a number of other CBB friends joined a national gathering declaring that “Religious leaders denounce anti-Muslim bigotry and call for respect of America’s religious diversity.”
Mattson said that the recent incidents of “alarming anti-Muslim bigotry,” including the proposed burning of copies of the Quran, challenge all in the U.S. “to live up to American values of religious freedom and tolerance.” She expressed gratitude for the presence of her Christian and Jewish colleagues in the interfaith gathering, noting particularly the challenges for Jewish clergy, with Rosh Hashanah beginning on Wednesday night.
Mattson also took the opportunity to speak to Muslims within and outside the U.S., asking that anti-Muslim actions by a fringe element in the U.S. not be used “to justify any actions” against those of other faiths. Dr. Sayyid M. Sayeed, who directs interfaith efforts for ISNA, added: “This ugly act [the proposed text burning] is nothing compared to the love and respect and appreciation” shown by so many Christian and Jewish communities throughout the U.S.
Not What We Are About
Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said he was participating in the gathering to oppose those who would use religion “to pull apart the threads” of the country’s fabric. We “stand here to say: ‘That is not who we are as Americans. That is not what we are about.'”
Saperstein also laid much responsibility on the press: “A lot depends on you. It’s a valid news story if a sacred book is burned,” he said, but it is crucial for the press to “lift up the truth,” including many acts of inter-religious support across the country.
“We are profoundly distressed and deeply saddened” by violence toward Muslims and by “desecration of Islamic houses of worship,” Fuchs-Kreimer read, as part of the collective statement. The statement decried “derision, mis-information or outright bigotry” regarding Islam, and pronounced clergy “appalled by the disrespect” behind a proposed burning of sacred texts, concluding: “Silence is not an option.”
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick called for “prayerful and firm response” from all of faith and spoke of the group’s fear that “the story of bigotry will be taken as story of real America” by those outside the U.S.
Rev. Cizik added: “As an evangelical, I say to those that are doing this that you bring dishonor to Jesus Christ…You violate the commandment not to bear false witness. You drive the watching world further away from our gospel message.”
In addition, he cautioned a majority religious community proposing actions which “trample religious liberty” of others: “Your own children may one day see their religious liberties [in jeopardy] tomorrow.”
Saperstein and others from the gathering were meeting with the U.S. Attorney General later on September 7, working toward a governmental response.
Michael Kinnamon of the National Council of Churches outlined other “next steps,” including “calling on our networks to replicate this kind of meeting in targeted cities” and encouraging action by state councils. NCC was in contact, in particular, he said, with the Council in Florida to organize “these kinds of [interfaith] meetings.”
Rev. Richard Killmer, of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, noted briefly that Muslims are often the target of torture and spoke of planning “another meeting like this one, but much larger… people in the pews who have the potential to have the most power.”
During the press conference, Mattson noted that many Muslim families are reporting increased anxiety, comparable only to the period immediately following 9/11/01, as they send children back to school where some people are promoting the idea that all Muslims are “aliens.”
“I don’t blame ordinary Americans…for feeling confused and anxious,” explained Mattson. Instead, she faults those who are deliberately “fomenting dislike and hatred.”
It is hard enough for religious leaders to get out messages about their own faiths, Mattson continued, with many people turning to the internet rather than a weekly sermon or other traditional avenues of learning. Still, it is necessary, Mattson and other leaders said, for all faiths to teach something about different traditions in order to avoid the sin — against teachings of Christianity, Judaism and Islam — of “bearing false witness against neighbors.”
The United States must work hard, Killmer said, to counter bigotry, “to make sure this blight on America’s soul dissipates.”
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