As an American deeply committed to religious pluralism and diversity, I find myself pulled in two different directions recently.
Amid the destruction of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, we have seen churches, synagogues, temples, mosques, and community centers open their doors, their hearts, and their hands to support each other. In times of disaster, communities are reaching out across our different backgrounds to knit back together a semblance of life.
Seeing this cooperative work leaves me with a deep sense of awe for how humanity can come together. Local communities worked together even before any national or international aid agencies set up shelters. They created plans and networks, and even used Twitter to rescue strangers stranded on roofs. While my heart breaks for the lives lost and interrupted, I see all the ways God is knitting us together through these local responses.
But also, right now, ACT for America, a major anti-Muslim hate group, is meeting in Washington, D.C. Groups like ACT for America aim to marginalize and block whole groups of people from our nation’s religious and community fabric. Both ACT for America and the founder, Brigitte Gabriel, have a long history of promoting policies at the federal and state levels that are intended to manufacture fear of Muslims and promote the false idea of Muslims as a threat to the United States.
ACT for America and similar groups have long played a significant role in driving a feverish climate of anti-Muslim hate, and supported discriminatory policies aimed at making it harder for Muslims to practice their faith. The group’s annual convening galvanizes their members and emboldens their anti-Muslim views and activism.
So while I’ve been filled with hope by communities coming together after natural disasters, we still have work to do as a nation. During this time of unity, we have also seen the worst of our national character come through. My heart breaks at the rise in religious bigotry we’ve seen recently.
Yet it is through our service to each other that we see and will continue to recognize the divinity and the humanity in every person who breaths. We must work together, reminding each other that we see our fellow Americans. We see friends and colleagues, coworkers, teachers, doctors, policemen and women, politicians, clergy, and family. Our humanity is interconnected and relies on each of our lives.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has said, “We learn to love humanity by loving specific human beings. There is no shortcut.” I learned to love humanity through loving my Muslim neighbor, my Jewish neighbor, my black neighbor, my atheist neighbor.
This love shows up in our public policies, in our push for equitable schools, in our calls for just immigration policies, and for politicians who uphold the values of compassion, respect, and mutuality as the root of their discourse. We must not allow organizations and lawmakers to promote policies that are based on fear and misinformation.
Today, my heart is pulled in two directions. On the one hand, American values are being reaffirmed by communities coming together after natural disasters. On the other, emboldened hate groups continue to gain access to the White House and our nation’s capital.
We have a choice as a nation. I hope and pray we choose the path to a more inclusive and just society.