Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:16-21 NIV)
Maybe you heard about four fire-bombings that occurred in Queens, New York a few days ago. The New York Times report, “A Fire Department official on Monday said it was fortunate that the damage was minimal from a series of arson attacks across eastern Queens on Sunday night that the police were investigating as a possible bias crime against Muslims.” A video was also released by the NYPD of a man throwing a Molotov cocktail at a house hosting a Hindu Temple. Another bomb was aimed at an Islamic center where 100 people were worshiping. The other two were aimed at a bodega (a convenience store) and another house. According to the L.A. Times, suspect Ray Lazier Lengend was believed to have hand-crafted Molotov cocktails using glass Starbucks Frappuccino bottles and a beer bottle. He then allegedly used the homemade weapons to get back at others for what he considered slights and insults.
Religious leaders, as a part of the Shoulder to Shoulder campaign, released the following statement in response to the attacks:
“As Christian, Muslim and Jewish religious leaders we stand shoulder-to-shoulder in response to the recent firebomings of January 1, 2012. The four locations targeted in Queens, New York and one in Long Island, New York included the Imam al-Khoei Benevolent Foundation, a store and three private homes –affecting members of Muslim, Christian and Hindu communities.
Adding to the horrendous nature of these attacks is the fact that each family was in their home and at least 80 people were present at the al-Khoei Center at the time of the attacks. Thankfully, no injuries have been reported but the sinister nature of these actions reminds us of the urgency of addressing such violence.
We condemn the violence toward these individuals and communities, and we offer our support to those affected. We are deeply saddened by incidents of violence committed against any religious community, and also by the desecration of houses of worship.
As religious leaders we will work to root out the seeds of violence toward religious communities regardless of which particular community is targeted. Two of the three homes attacked on Sunday belong to Christian and Hindu families. One of the homes was reportedly used regularly for Hindu worship services. Our broader, interreligious community must understand that violence toward one particular community affects the freedom and sanctity of all communities.
The attacks represent the deep challenge that all Americans face in the New Year. It is time that we as a country resolve to end all violence toward individuals and communities of faith. Increased rates of violence in 2011 against Muslims, Arabs, South Asians and those perceived to be from these communities must taken seriously and cannot be allowed to continue into 2012.
However, information released about the confession of Mr. Lengend in relation to the firebombings has clarified that these attacks were not based on religion but rather on personal grievances. Our relief at this fact does not remove the burden we feel to ensure those affected by the attacks receive the help they need to make repairs and feel safe again in their homes and houses of worship.
In 2012 we renew our commitment to love our neighbor, a shared imperative in each of our faith traditions. By responding to the teachings of our respective faith traditions we are compelled to condemn the violence aimed at every faith tradition, to support those who have been the victims of such crimes, and to stand shoulder-to-shoulder against the violence that continues to affect our society.”
So like Paul said in his letter to the Romans, let us repay evil for good this year. And also, let’s resolve further to love our neighbors as ourselves.
James Colten is a campaigns assistant at Sojourners.