A recent Vox article painted a dim picture of religion and politics last year. The piece focused on the resurgence of white Christian nationalism, linked with support for U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, President Donald Trump, and hate-filled rallies in places like Charlottesville.
“When it comes to the rise of Christian nationalism and the increase in hate crimes alike, there’s little reason to believe anything will necessarily improve [this] year,” reporter Tara Isabella Burton wrote.
Stories like this dominated our news feeds in 2017, and in many ways, they correctly summarize the current state of religion and politics in America. I work on mobilizing faith communities to counter anti-Muslim bigotry, and I know firsthand that we are living through a very rough patch of religious bigotry. A recent FBI report released on hate crimes in 2016 showed that hate crimes against many groups rose dramatically in the last two years, with Muslims reporting the most dramatic increase in attacks.
But my work with Christian, Jewish, and Humanist allies of the Muslim community also shows me that there are on-the-ground, pragmatic reasons to be optimistic about our future.
In my job as communications and project consultant for an interfaith organization dedicated to ending anti-Muslim sentiment, I follow updates on the legal arguments for the “Muslim ban,” and follow and support organizations that are cultivating equitable, just communities based on respect and love. I’m lucky to work with incredible people who work everyday to create inclusive policies across the religious and non-religious spectrum.
And this year, one year after the first attempt at a Muslim ban in this country, I have a different view of how religious communities have been mobilizing 2017.
America and the world saw religion at work in the people who showed up across the country to say that they are committed to a vision of America that includes people of all faiths and backgrounds — an America that upholds the values of equality, of fairness, and of mutual respect. This week, people created human chains around Muslims praying in New York City; Jewish families, young and old, showed up last year at airports to protest the initial travel ban. And when anti-Muslim marches were planned across the country, it was faith communities that showed up in droves to show their opposition to bigotry and hate.
This wasn’t just a flash in the pan — increased support and action has continued for the last year. My organization, the Shoulder-to-Shoulder Campaign, has seen a rise in people seeking resources and support for building interfaith relationships and how to be better allies to Muslim communities around the country. This week we were honored to join a coalition of partners in Seattle, for our first training of 100 faith leaders — equipping and supporting them to end anti-Muslim bigotry in their own communities.
We’ve seen religion at work in all the people who are reaching out to one another in quieter ways, gathering in living rooms and in houses of worship across the country to make efforts to get to know one another better. The Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom has seen a dramatic increase in new chapters across the country, from just 25 chapters in spring 2016 to nearly 120 chapters (with another 30 in the start-up phase) now.
We’ve also seen religious people across the political spectrum work together on issues of poverty, racism, immigration, criminal justice reform, and bigotry to create flourishing, safe, welcoming communities. The Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina is now spreading across the country, in a renewed vision of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign. Religious communities are standing together to protect immigrants. Other faith leaders across the spectrum are predicting that this growth will continue in 2018.
People who are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist and unaffiliated have repeatedly answered calls to show up for each other, strengthening existing bonds and creating new ones. Houston mosques opened their doors, along with churches, synagogues, and other communities, to respond to the overwhelming need of people before, during and after hurricane Harvey. And here is an always-growing list of events working to make sure there is #NoMuslimBanEver.
This, too, is the religion we saw shaping 2017.
And this is the America I believe in. No matter how we differ in our beliefs or practices, this country is meant to be a place where all of us feel safe and have the opportunity to thrive. So — despite demeaning rhetoric, stigmatizing policies, and acts of hatred and violence — I have hope, because I choose to see the many ways that people of faith and goodwill are pushing back. I hope that you do, too.
Another recent Vox article reports on a new study that found “the national discourse about the Muslim ban — and a general sense from liberal and mainstream media that the policy was at odds with ‘American values’ — prompted some respondents to shift their attitudes, ultimately causing many Americans who had previously supported or been neutral on the issue of Trump’s Muslim ban to come down against it.”
In other words, standing up and speaking out really does create change.
The effort to push our nation toward its best ideals requires all of us. Yes, 2017 was full of people using religion to justify hate, discrimination, and violence. Last year was also full of people of faith coming together for one another, and working to create a nation that includes rather than excludes.
That religion story may make for less flashy headlines, but it's one worth telling again and again. It's worth remembering that the bad headlines aren't all that's out there.