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Faith community denounces frenzy of anti-Muslim bigotry

The Fig Tree Board meeting in September felt called to make a statement against the anti-Islam sentiments voiced over the summer and a pastor who eventually was dissuaded from burning Qu’rans.

With The Fig Tree modeling solutions-oriented journalism, the board is attuned to media decisions and believes some media have played a role in building an “enemy image” that mistakenly associates terrorists with Islam by repeating the phrase, “M_____ terrorists,” and by feeding into sensationalized, polarizing coverage of one pastor in Florida and a planned Muslim community center in New York City.

Our board voted, on Sept. 9, to endorse a statement by interfaith leaders—consisting of National Council of Churches, Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Jewish, Muslim and other leaders and supported by the Washington Association of Churches and Lutheran Public Policy Office—to speak out against the degradation of any religious symbol or sacred texts of religions.

Board members believe such a stand is in line with our call to be in solidarity with people of diverse faiths and to engender interfaith understanding, respect and cooperation in line with our mission to: 1) connect people of faith on common concerns; 2) share stories of people living their faith and values; 3) build understanding among diverse congregations; 4) stir compassion for vulnerable, violated people; 5) explore issues of faith, ethics and justice; 6) offer reflection behind ideas and actions; 7) open dialogue to foster respect; 8) network people and groups to pool resources, and 9) inspire people to act together locally and globally.

The Fig Tree seeks to break through divisions among people and faiths by building understanding, promoting unity and inviting action.

The statement of more than 50 religious leaders denounces “the derision, misinformation and outright bigotry” directed against America’s Muslim community. They call for honoring America’s varied faith traditions and promoting a culture of mutual respect that assures religious freedom for all. They call for “a new era of interfaith cooperation.”

“As Jews, Christians, and Muslims, we are grateful to live in this democracy whose Constitution guarantees religious liberty for all,” they said, calling for guarding that freedom so the United States remains “a beacon to the world in defending the rights of religious minorities.” They know that at times in history some groups have been singled out for unjust discrimination, scorn and animosity by people who misconstrue or distort the U.S. founders’ vision.

Alarmed by the anti-Muslim frenzy over the plans to build an Islamic community center and mosque at the Park 51 site near Ground Zero in New York City, they sought to respond to the fear, contempt and violence against Muslims. They strongly condemned one pastor’s threat to burn the Qu’ran and affirmed “building a future in which religious differences no longer lead to hostility or division between communities” but allow diversity “to enrich our public discourse about the moral challenges that face our nation and planet.”

They believe 1) no religion should be judged by the words or actions of people who seek to pervert it through violence; 2) politicians and media are never justified in exploiting religious differences as a wedge to advance political agendas or ideologies, and 3) bearing false witness against the neighbor is condemned by all the major religious traditions.

The religious leaders call for mutual learning among religions, urging congregational leaders “to teach with accuracy, fairness and respect about other faith traditions.” They urge interfaith education, inter-congregational visitations, dialogues among scholars and religious authorities, and common action for justice and mercy to benefit society. These leaders believe that their faiths can accomplish more together and can heal U.S. culture from the wounds of 9/11.

“Silence is not an option. Only by taking this stand can spiritual leaders fulfill the highest calling of our respective faiths, and thereby help to create a safer and stronger America for all of our people,” they said.

How will Inland Northwest faith communities respond?  Will media take responsibility rather than being caught in political winds and ploys?  What role will our universities play in fostering dialogue?  How will we each drop the mantle of silence and speak out to challenge bigotry we encounter?

By Mary Stamp - Editor