For the last 24 years of National Action Network's (NAN) existence, I have utilized Thanksgiving Day to serve and eat with the homeless and seniors at our headquarters in New York City. I chose to turn a day that I have serious problems with, given the history of what was done to Native Americans, into a day of family and community to show that we can extend ourselves beyond our own comfort.
We will continue that tradition this Thursday, but I have also particularly reached out to Muslims to join us in our Harlem headquarters and chapters around the country that follow the Thanksgiving NAN tradition. We hope to set one of the examples of how we must use every opportunity to counter the Islamophobia and fear mongering that some GOP Presidential candidates and others on the right have purposely and blatantly tried to whip up as a result of the recent Paris attacks. It is dangerous, despicable and has no place in our society. People of goodwill must refute such behavior in every way we can. To that end, I say, invite a Muslim to Thanksgiving dinner.
Let me be clear, I detest, despise and find no iota of sympathy for terrorists or terrorism. I lost people I know in the 9/11 attacks at the World Trade Center in 2001. They were innocents who had nothing to do with foreign policy or any other policy; just victims of vicious people who think human lives are mere props for their terror.
The attacks of ISIL, Boko Haram and other groups whether in Paris, Mali, Nigeria, Kenya or elsewhere must be dealt with and must lead to real ways of protecting and securing the public at home and abroad. But to stigmatize all Muslims as extremists is to become accomplices of hate and terrorism rather than the ones that solve it. Muslims overwhelmingly have denounced acts of terrorism, and are in fact the greatest victims of terrorism around the world. Just as Christians are not responsible for extremist Christians, the same is so for Muslims.
When there is such a climate of hate and scapegoating, it is not enough to just condemn inflammatory statements; we must openly embrace our Muslim brothers and sisters. And we must do so as publicly as we can. Some suggested closing mosques, creating a Muslim registry and other shrill things that reek of hysteria and discrimination. It is not only un-American, but it is nonsensical and outrageous. Our nation's founders purported freedom of religion, and crafted separation of Church and state. Perhaps those uttering hate-filled statements and calling for registries need to study the Constitution.
It's important to remember that we cannot defeat ISIS or Boko Haram, or other terrorist groups without active partnership, support and participation of Muslims everywhere. We cannot change the Middle East without working with and respecting the Muslim community. I therefore raise these points as a pro-American, pro-peace, anti-terror individual -- but also as a Christian clergy who believes firmly in Jesus' teachings of the good Samaritan.
When I see Syrian refugees who are in many cases children and seniors reaching out for help, it is against my religion to advocate ignoring them based on religion or nationality. You cannot support a ban on refugees, then go to a Church that claims to follow Jesus the next minute. Those two things are simply not compatible. In fact, Joseph, Mary and Jesus were refugees themselves fleeing into Egypt. Had some of our Governors and right-wing candidates been in charge then, I wonder if I would have ever even known my Lord and Savior.
Today, when so many children, elderly, women and families are fleeing the devastation and horror in Syria and elsewhere, we cannot turn our backs on them, nor can we succumb to fear and panic. Let us remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s words:
"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
Happy Thanksgiving and in Jesus' name, invite a Muslim to your table if you can.