The Executive Director of a multifaith seminary – and an interfaith practitioner – writes of their response to recent events in the US Capitol, Washington, DC on 6 January 2021.
Deep In My Heart I Do Believe
This week I watched a fantastic documentary film called Shared Legacies: The African-American Jewish Civil Rights Alliance. The inspiration of Shared Legacies was in jarring contrast to the Washington riot we’ve been seeing replayed over and over on television. It’s hard to place the lives lost in the DC melee beside civil rights martyrs. Still, we must remember that some lost their lives in a way that refocused our attention on the things that really matter in America and beyond. A juxtaposition of January 6 with a previous Black Lives Matter march and rally allows those who are willing to see the distinction between injustice and a healthy democracy. Exposure of many of the January 6 protesters has revealed ugly truths about our society. I expect to see more gaslighting and conspiracy theories spewed, but now they will be backlit by the brighter lights who are stepping forward to bring our democracy back into a semblance of balance.
Late afternoon on the 6th I met with interfaith and Jewish leaders here in my city to determine what our immediate public response would be. We knew that whatever we might say about what had already happened, we needed to put out messaging that might prevent bloodshed in the near future. I called Andras Corban-Arthen of Earthspirit for advice. Andras has been deeply involved in global interfaith for many years. He agreed with me that interfaith groups must avoid politics. But, he exclaimed, everything is political, and politics is how people in our society communicate with each other. He pointed out that there are many religions whose members have a long history of bloodshed and conflict, but who have learned to come together over shared human concerns like hunger, racism, equal rights and environmental work.
In the end, our statewide media release noted that marches are a cherished American practice, but urged people to refrain from counterprotest for the time being because the white nationalists across the country were eager and prepared for physical conflict. One person contacted us with a polite reproach that protest is an important part of her spirituality. My reply was that she should continue to do all that she can, but to explore fresh ways to speak out which would not jeopardise her or others’ lives, to watch for a day soon when rather than pouring gas on flames, one’s voice will be heard, effecting change. Nonetheless, our spiritual lives do seek a way to connect with others during dangerous times. While I counsel caution about going abroad during pandemic (when I visited a state MAGA rally on the morning of January 6 I believe I saw only one person wearing a mask), I am personally committed to continuing to speak my truth in support of justice and against racism.
White nationalist activities grow bolder not just in the United States but in many countries. … Whatever our theology, spirituality or practice, surely we can all agree that it is high time for humans to treat each other as they wish to be treated, that it is time for whites to stop fearing people of colour, time to affirm the merits of a multicultural society. Within this seminary’s virtual walls we encourage discussion in the classroom and beyond about how to make a difference. We encourage that discussion to arise out of passion, not anger, the latter being a fire that is too easily quenched or too quick to surge out into a wildfire. Anger can burn, and some things need burning, but right now we need new beginnings, the fruit of intense passion for life. A dispassionate composure may help us to look back on our history with honesty, finally making us able as a country to admit how we have harmed so many.
Once we have looked back with remorse, then unity and peace naturally lead us into the future. Is this Pollyanna speaking? Or could it be that deep in my heart I really do believe that we shall overcome someday? In the days to come, be gentle with each other. Assume good faith and intent, and affirm integrity when you see it.
Holli Emore is Executive Director of the Cherry Hill Seminary
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