Yesterday, the Interfaith Council sponsored a dinner discussion about the ways in which this presidential election campaign has targeted specific religious groups while also pitting people within the same faith tradition against one another. The room was full, the pasta was delicious and the conversation was inspiring.
Not only were the students in attendance representative of several faith traditions, they also represented several countries and various ethnic heritages. They spoke at length about the ways that they have felt targeted, not only by candidates seeking public office, but by "everyday people" who make comments about Muslims, or a merchant who makes a disparaging comment when international students make a purchase.
What everyone in the room agreed on was that the tone being set by this campaign is filtering down to local communities, and the rhetoric is troubling, not just for its own sake, but also for the ways in which some have embraced it.
Folks show their appreciation for the vitriol of a candidate by saying, "I like the fact that he speaks his mind." But, if that candidate espouses ideas that are bigoted, hateful and untrue, does he or she deserve respect just because the thoughts were expressed openly? We then addressed the question: So, what can people of faith do to combat this hateful rhetoric? Surprisingly, there was not much of a response.
Perhaps we were over-thinking the question, or maybe the task seems too large. Truth is, the answer is complex, yet maddeningly simple: don't remain silent when hateful things are being said or when they go unchallenged. Evil is not created always by people in power; sometimes evil prospers when good people choose to remain silent.
No one wants to feel as if he or she is "on the spot" by having to speak out on controversial topics. We prefer being popular over being unpopular every time. The faith traditions represented at that dinner last night, Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Sikhism, all of them have at their heart the command that we love one another. People of faith have a mandate, I think: speak out against hatred whenever and wherever it occurs. The fact that some on the religious right have embraced the hateful rhetoric and the people who utter it in the name of faith is frightening, truly, but it does not have to be the only narrative coming from those who identify themselves as people of faith.
Need a confidence booster to do that? Very well: "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you."(Matthew 5:11-12)