Welcome the Stranger

This morning I rewrote on the blackboard sandwich sign outside the church “Welcome the Stranger”. I rewrite it after each rain wipes it clean. This is not a jingoistic, SF PC slogan, this is Biblical. Ancient Israel continually struggled to embrace those around them of other cultures, religions and standards. By the time of Jesus, the poli-cultural landscape was the backdrop for the new church. Yet just as ancient Israel was called to be inclusive and the new church struggled to embrace others, we too find it a challenge to open our hearts and our neighborhoods and our politics to those who we might call strangers.

For quite some time, but especially since the tragedies in Paris and San Bernardino, Muslims in America have been enduring a vicious array of attacks and threats. Revolting statements by presidential candidates and other politicians have grabbed the headlines. And the United States government continues to attack majority-Muslim countries and arm other nations to invade and occupy territories populated by Arabs and Muslims. But a series of attacks by ordinary people across this country have been taking place under the radar on a near daily basis for too long now.

3 weeks ago a retired Houston fire chief tweeted as a mosque burned, “shut off the hydrants, let it burn.”

Just yesterday, someone threw a severed pig’s head at a mosque in Philadelphia.

Last Wednesday, a man threatened to attack a mosque in Manassas, Virginia.

The day before, a bullet-ridden copy of the Quran was found hanging from an Islamic clothing store in Los Angeles.

On Thanksgiving, a Pittsburgh man shot a Moroccan taxi driver after interrogating him about his Islamic faith.

Earlier last month, an American man threatened a mosque in St. Petersburg, FL, saying that his militia was “going to come down to your Islamic Society of Pinellas County and firebomb you and shoot whoever is there in the head.”

A gunman fired multiple shots on a mosque in Meriden, CT.

Vandals in Pflugerville, TX spread feces over the door of a mosque and pages of the Quran.

A man in Cincinnati nearly ran over a young woman in a hijab after cursing at her and calling her a “terrorist.”

An Ethiopian American taxi driver was assaulted and threatened with a gun by a passenger in Charlotte, NC who thought he was Muslim (he was Christian).

In San Diego, a man shoved the stroller of a woman wearing a hijab into her visibly pregnant abdomen after making racist threats.

What alarms me most recently is not the political posturing, for words flow unfiltered and often times as an emotional response. What concerns me is the applause given as response, and the possible active repercussion from folks who will quickly embrace these words as permission to hate, hurt and oppress, with a viral racism.

Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-Arab racial profiling and discrimination of any kind is not only harmful to who we are as a culture, but illegal in a democracy. True Democracies are judged by their ability to share the riches of heritage and home. I know that as followers of Jesus Christ you join with me in condemning this behavior, along with all other forms of hatred and violence, and stand in solidarity especially with our Muslim brothers and sisters these days and always. I invite you to do this by being in conversation with others about how important it is that we talk about this, and especially to our children.

When the Nazis came for the communists,

I remained silent;

I was not a communist.

 When they locked up the social democrats,

I remained silent;

I was not a social democrat.

 When they came for the trade unionists,

I did not speak out;

I was not a trade unionist.

 When they came for the Jews,

I remained silent;

I wasn’t a Jew.

 When they came for me,

there was no one left to speak out.

Pastor Martin Niemöller, January 6, 1946, Frankfurt, Germany

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