Though we dream of a day when we will all accept one another across faith lines, celebrate our diversity, and join together in respect to make the world a better place for our children – all of our children, I doubt that any of us dedicated to the interfaith movement imagine that we will become unnecessary anytime soon.
Neither do we imagine that, however dedicated we are, we can stop all extremism and violence.
But the past twenty-four hours have been a sobering reminder of how much we still need to do to realize our vision of harmony.
The shocking violence of the shootings at the Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, WI, is the latest in acts of hatred directed to this most peaceful and service-directed community of faith. The first murder after 9/11 was of a Sikh man mistakenly taken for a Muslim because of his turban. That violence be directed to all Muslims as a reaction to the violence of extremists on 9/11 is sad enough. But to persecute Sikhs, mistaking them for Muslims, is a blatant example of religious ignorance.
I noted a small example of this religious illiteracy when a CNN reporter [I won't name him] mispronounced the word Sikh several times as sheek until he was perhaps corrected by his compere during a commercial break.
Later in the same broadcast, Don Lemon spoke with Rajwant Singh about the shootings and encouraged him to share some facts about the Sikh religion. In our local paper, there was an AP press chart of factoids about the Sikh faith. The Huffington Post has two videos about Sikhs – Sikhs in America: What You Need To Know About The World’s Fifth-Largest Religion and Sikhism: 5 Things To Know About The Sikh Religion. I am sure these are just a few of the many examples. It is perhaps one small blessing to follow tragedy, if we can educate ourselves as we struggle to respond to the horror of this event.
Almost as disturbing as the shootings themselves, Fred Phelps, leader of the infamous Westboro ‘Baptist’ ‘Church’, tweeted almost immediately “Beautiful work of an angry God who told Wisconsin to keep their filthy hands off his people (WBC)!” I cannot even find words to respond.
Unfortunately within the same twenty-four hour period, a mosque in southwest Missouri burned to the ground. It is the second fire to hit the Islamic center in little more than a month. This time the mosque was totally destroyed.
It would be easy to be discouraged by the enormity of these tragic events. Fortunately, there has been an outpouring of support for the victims from many faith groups and individuals. I hope that this support speaks comfort to the hearts of those who are mourning.
I hope that all of us in the NAIN community of interfaith friends will wrap the victims in prayer, meditation, and compassion.
It is also a call to action – we must all be reminded to continue steadfastly in our work towards peace and understanding.