About three weeks ago, we faced some of the more difficult days of my time here. As you learned in the congregational letter that went out by email, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim groups based in other states attempted to generate protests and even disruption of our “Souper Sunday” event on March 6. That event–an invitation for Mahmoud Mahmoud of Church World Service to speak to us about the Syrian refugee crisis, the process that all those applying for refugee status in the United States must go through, and the realities for those Syrian refugees already legally admitted to this country and living in nearby communities–was described by some online as “helping ISIS”. All this made it prudent for us to have two uniformed police officers onsite throughout the event.
While it would be easy for us to dwell on those aspects of our hosting this forum, and treat them as “the story”, from my view the “real story” is much more important.
When the event finally arrived, we had, at different times, anywhere from one to five protesters holding signs on the sidewalk next to the church, and several individuals inside who were clearly there to voice their opposition to admitting or assisting Syrian refugees. But other than that...nothing.
And in my mind, that is the real story. The real story is that, in this time when some political debates and rallies for candidates are characterized much more by grade school level taunts and physical aggression than thoughtful, nuanced assertions regarding serious and complex issues; this time when objective facts are often treated as irrelevant at best, and with contempt at worst; this time when confrontation is considered strength and conversation and civility weakness; we organized and carried out an event related to a significant and sensitive topic that said a loud and proud “Not here. Not now.” to all of that.
Instead we said a faithful “Yes” to insisting on and creating an environment where all opinions, concerns and beliefs could be freely expressed without disruption; where those who were here from outside our spiritual community were treated as if they were part of it, regardless of whether or not they chose to accept that gracious welcome; and where we stood up for the core Christian principles of inclusion, hospitality, and the refusal to be intimidated by those who would have preferred we not take seriously the suffering of God's people in another part of the world.
In short, we were Easter people–people of a Jesus whose life, teachings and spirit could not be silenced or done away with–even by death. That is what you did. That is who you are.
For going on 11 years now I have loved and been proud to be a part of this faith community. But never more than I was in early March.
Easter Blessings, Mark