America Afraid

America Afraid

by Rev. Susan Brecht

I moved to Newton from Southern California a month after the Marathon Bombing, to a community still reeling in the aftermath of such a hateful act. I moved to a community with “Boston Strong” plastered on billboards and buses and T-shirts, saying to anyone who listened, “We will not allow this act of terrorism to define who we are.”  That slogan was quickly adopted by national newscasts declaring “America Strong.” Today I’m not so sure.

For what seemed like an eternity we’ve been watching, with horror and compassion, hundreds of thousands of men, women and children, risking their lives to flee the war torn violence in lands they once called home. We felt helpless, but we still asked, “What can we do to help?”

That spirit of generosity and concern took a dramatic turn with the attacks in Paris. If it happened in Paris, it could happen in the U.S. again. And it has, in San Bernardino  CA.  We are no longer “America Strong”. We’re “America Afraid,” and it’s not a pretty sight. Will we allow ourselves to be filled with the fear-mongering and mis-information crowding our air waves and social media, fueled by politicians demonizing Muslims for the acts of a tiny, yes tiny, minority of terrorists? The billions of people who follow Islam will tell you, “These terrorists do not represent us.”

Fear can be dangerous. It breeds mis-trust, even hatred. Hate speech against Muslims is growing by the minute across this country. And it grows out of ignorance. How are we to respond? Our government encourages us to stay vigilant, but vigilance alone can lead to profiling, and suspicion of anyone “not like us”, driving us further apart at a time when we all need to be coming together. 

It’s imperative in times like these for our faith communities to speak out, and not just at rallies and prayer vigils after a horrific event. We need to support our Muslim brothers and sisters by reaching out in friendship to learn about their faith, and their fears, in this volatile environment. I saw a headline recently stating that a large percentage of Americans do not agree with Muslim values. Do they even have a clue what they are? 

In the aftermath of the Paris bombing, the Eliot Church, which I pastor, sent a letter of support to our local mosques. The Islamic Society of Boston responded by thanking us and inviting us to visit them and learn more. We plan to take an intergenerational group in the new year to start to build bridges of knowledge and understanding.

Shortly after moving to Newton I joined the Daughters of Abraham Book Club. We come together once a month to engage in interfaith dialogue. There I have learned from Jewish, Muslim and Christian women, some who have moved here with their families from the Middle East. I’ve invited two of these Daughters: Rabbi Judy Kummer, and Saadia Husain Baloch from the Islamic Center of Boston, Wayland, to join me in leading an interfaith worship service for peace at the Eliot Church of Newton, 474 Centre St., on December 13th at 10 a.m.

This is the Christian season of Advent and the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah, when we light candles for the coming of light to shine in the darkness of this world. What better time to come together, all three faith traditions, to promote unity, understanding and peace. It’s a baby step, but an important one to move from fear to strength. Please join us, and think about what steps you can take to make us once again “America Strong”. 
Rev. Susan Brecht
Senior Pastor of the Eliot Church of Newton
Member of the Newton Clergy Association
and the Newton Chapter of the Daughters of Abraham

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