How we respond to the increase of fear in politics and violence against ‘the other’: A statement by OneSpirit Interfaith Foundation
As interfaith ministers, we are deeply disturbed by recent political developments in our society. We are fearful that important values we stand for — being open-hearted, inclusive, celebrating diversity, curious about other cultures and religions, welcoming people who are different — are being rejected in the current political climate in the UK, the USA, and much of Europe.
We are acutely aware that this same fear we feel is experienced much more intensely by others. The refugees from wars in the Near East and Africa who find their escape routes to safety and support now closed, are very much in our hearts. As are those in our own communities, such as our Jewish neighbours who are facing an upsurge in anti-semitism and attacks on their families and property; and our friends of the Islamic faith, many of whom face mistrust, hatred and danger as they go about their everyday lives from the growth in islamophobia.
Syrian refugees (Picture from PhotosForClass.com)
Part of our response is to reaffirm our deepest faith that all human beings are different faces of the same God, and that hatred or violence directed against one of us is suffered as a wound against our humanity by all. We commit to strengthening interfaith networks of friendship and dialogue whenever possible. We also commit to speaking up against the politics of fear and exclusion, and, to quote in solidarity our sister seminary in New York, “by praying with hands together and our feet in the street.”
At the same time, we know that fear is not confined to those who are most obviously victims. We recognise it is also fear that drives millions of ordinary people to vote for politicians who promise to protect them from the danger of being excluded themselves in some way — perhaps from economic security and jobs, from safety against terrorist attack, from the loss of a familar way of life, from the bewildering pace of change. All of us experience such fears at some time. We know how difficult it is to be with the danger of the unknown and the vulnerability of being human.
We must keep a space in our hearts even for the hate-mongers, xenophobes and violent attackers. The rage that fuels them arises when people have been so traumatised by their own experiences of fear and pain that their capacity for compassion is shut down, and they ‘act out’ as bullies the callous behaviours they have experienced as victims. As human beings and as ministers, to find our own compassion even for those who hate us is one of the most difficult challenges we face. In this practice, the Christian tradition gives extraordinary inspiration in the words of Jesus during his crucifixion: ““Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
It helps us to know that usually these perpetrators are acting out patterns first formed in childhood, and in some deep sense they are still children. It’s important to stop them harming others, and if possible to channel their energy in more positive directions, but they can only be healed by love. We are thankful for the inspired professionals and volunteers who dedicate their lives to working with violent offenders — who are among those most excluded and shunned by our society — and helping them to grow as full human beings.
This perspective underpins, in a wider sense, how we respond to current political circumstances. From the moment we embark on becoming OneSpirit ministers, we commit to healing whatever is shut down or excluded in ourselves. This includes everything: the ways in which we distrust strangers, or feel excluded from society or conventional religious communities; how we slip so easily into judging and condemning others; how we feel and express the anger, pain and prejudice that are part and parcel of our human inheritance, even alongside the love, joy and trust that naturally arise from an open heart.
In the same way, we also commit to using to the fullest possible extent those structures within OneSpirit Interfaith Foundation that have been created to facilitate and resolve the conflicts that are inevitable even — perhaps. some would say, especially —in a spiritual organisation.
Our own individual healing through love, in itself, helps to heal the whole, and empowers us to serve more effectively, whatever our professional calling. We seek to include all of our experience, and all that arises in the world around us. We draw inspiration from the great prophets and wisdom seekers in all cultures, faith traditions and branches of human endeavour, and stand with all the countless, committed people around this precious and fragile planet who are dedicated to building a future in which all human beings and all life can flourish.
OneSpirit Interfaith Foundation
Statement – 11 February 2017