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Abrahamic Cousins

December 16, 2016

Sunday, December 11, was a very special day at White Plains Presbyterian Church. In light of recent white supremacist hate crimes (including the appearance of swastikas in our city), and – in particular – a national rise in Islamophobia, we invited a Muslim peace activist Sahar Alsahlani to spend a Sunday morning with us.

Sahar is a member of the Community of Living Traditions at Stony Point Center, an intentional, interfaith community that live and work and share their faith struggles together. She is also a GreenFaith Fellow who I travelled with to Standing Rock early last month. Sahara began her day by having breakfast with our youngest members, the children in our church school and their families. She answered questions about her hijab, dress, diet and beliefs, as well as reading from the Quran, talking about her children, and her work to make a better world through nonviolent activism. She confronted stereotypes, and invited the children to recognize her as one of their Abrahamic cousins in faith. The children were very engaged.

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During worship, Sahar spoke more frankly with the adults about our need to stand together in confronting the bigotry, fear, and racial nationalism overtaking our country. She spoke of having the courage of our convictions, of the struggle to be faithful, and of how much we have to learn from one another.

Following her talk, I read a statement adopted by local interfaith groups to kick off a new organization called Not in Our Towns: Westchester Country United Against Hate.

WHITE PLAINS RELIGIOUS LEADERS and MINISTERS FELLOWSHIP COUNCIL

We have come together in the aftermath of this election, when many of us are feeling vulnerable and worried, to affirm our core values as a community.

We recognize that these fears are not new for many Americans. As leaders in White Plains and Westchester County, we believe it is our responsibility to take a stand and help set the tone for our life together as a city in this emerging world.

We come from different political parties and religious backgrounds. We hold divergent roles in our shared community. We come from the private, public, and non-profit sectors. Yet, we are united in our affirmation that there is no place for discrimination here in White Plains and throughout Westchester County.

This statement of solidarity as citizens comes not out of partisan grief over the election, but from watching an adversarial worldview take hold – one that excludes, creates fear, isolates, and marginalizes the contributions of all Americans toward the vocation of perfecting our Union.

We, in turn, will respond by standing up for the rights of all our residents as we hold self-evident each person’s sacred worth and dignity, committing ourselves to treating everyone with respect, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, immigration status, socio-economic status, mental abilities or physical abilities.

We covenant together to work collaboratively against efforts to marginalize or belittle any group.  We want our neighbors to know that Westchester County is and will remain a place of hospitality and hope.  In a time with too much hatred, suspicion, and division, we resolve to stand unified as a people; to become a community of refuge and resistance; to protect the vulnerable and to demand justice from the powerful. We commit to organizing around issues that endanger liberty in our city.

It is in this unity of spirit that we affirm Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s prophetic and timely words, “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”

May we not be too late. May we not be apathetic or complacent. May we now join our voices and hands in the work that lies ahead so that we might see a new and more hopeful day for our city and country.  May this be a day of opportunity, not despair.  May it be the day that we begin to know one another fully, to embrace one another’s uniqueness, and to lift one another higher.

The statement was written for a rally to be held two days later in front of the County Courthouse, attended by religious leaders, elected officials and business and community letters. While the letter was signed by nearly all of the White Plains religious leaders, I invited members of the congregation to come forward and sign their names as well, collecting another 70 signatures and committing our congregation to do whatever it takes to turn back this tide of intolerance.

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