A Challenge of Our Character

We are a nation at war with itself. Our struggle has shaken us to our core. Our character is tested. Our democracy is at stake. We are a people divided. Ours is a holy war, and it is terrifying.

Today’s news has hit me hard. Another Muslim community, this time in Kansas, has been threatened with violence. I am grateful to all those who worked to bring the conspirators to justice before their plan could be carried out, but I am not finding peace tonight.

People who are different are not safe in our country. This year, there have been 78 attacks on Muslim mosques. Of all the hateful prejudices and stereotypes that have surfaced in recent months, I find this religious intolerance particularly disquieting.

I am a descendant of William Brewster, who slipped onto the Mayflower in secret with a portion of his family in 1621 to escape persecution for his religious writings. He helped facilitate the drafting of the Mayflower Compact, a historic document which was in certain respects a precursor to the US Constitution. I am proud of my heritage, and I take freedom of religion very seriously.

There are plenty of people in America whose beliefs do not align with mine. I am not threatened by that. Our strength is in our diversity. Wisdom is all around us, and if we seek truth without prejudice, we find it in many forms. I believe my faith is strengthened when I learn about other faiths.

I do not fear the religious disciple who seeks wisdom, who practices peace and works for a better tomorrow. I fear the zealot who is convinced that theirs is the only way, and who assumes the role of judge, inquisitor, executioner. Today’s political rhetoric is championed by bullies who single out suitable scapegoats; they encourage us to live by fear and put our trust in them for our deliverance.

The intolerance found in Garden City has been simmering for a few decades, as the cultural composition of that community has shifted; the hatred there is not a product of recent political discourse. However, I believe that our current political climate has given hate a place to grow all across our country. KKK literature is appearing on doorsteps in my neighborhood; a KKK flag flies across the street from a nearby high school. The organization is certainly not as large as it once was, but it seems to be growing more bold.

Violence is woven into the fabric of our culture. Social media has given hate a platform, and engagement keeps the conversation alive. News programming now features a healthy daily dose of arguments, and in this context, our children learn the art of verbal bullying. Hateful words fly in every direction, and hateful words can easily lead to hateful deeds.

I believe that at its core, hatred is simply fear. Sure enough, once again we find that “the only thing we have to fear… is fear itself.”

Ours is a crisis of character. The true nature of our democracy will be demonstrated to the rest of the world by the manner in which we meet this crisis; the world is most certainly watching. In our homes, in our schools, in our churches, in our streets, in our tweets, our posts, our daily conversations, every citizen determines our future. This is bigger than a call to get out the vote, because this crisis is bigger than one election. In the days and weeks to come, our words and actions will define us.

All of us have a responsibility to find the path to peace. We must listen with respect. We must think critically, without criticizing. We must seek the truth. We must consider the needs of all. We must learn to discuss our opinions with those who disagree. We must learn to compromise. We must seek peace with one another.

We don’t agree. It will not be easy. We will only meet this challenge if we face it together. We must not fail.

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