Those of us who are old enough to remember can recall where we were and what we were doing when we first heard of the terrible terrorist attacks of 9/11/01. At the time I was the pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Church on the West Side of Manhattan, about 5 or 6 miles due north of the World Trade Towers, which the planes crashed into and which collapsed, causing thousands of deaths and injuries, as well as major property damage. A prominent member of our parish choir was killed on the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. Needless to say, the attack was personal to us all.
The next day, which was a Wednesday, huge crowds attended all the Masses. I remember I preached that if we as individuals and as a nation reacted with fear, hatred, anger, desires to seek revenge, and a willingness to hurt and destroy and kill, then the terrorists win. Their goal is to suck us into the unending cycle of revenge and hatred. If they succeed in getting us to act like them, then they win.
I still believe that. Recently, in Paris, Belgium, and other places, terrorists continue to do all they can to incite us to revenge and violence and hate. And they are very good at it. But we do not need to be sucked into their trap of becoming like them: full of fear, hate and violence. As Christians we are stronger than that.
Because the world is such a scary and dangerous place, because there is so much to induce fear and worry in all of us, because we are always tempted to resort to violence to fight violence, we need to constantly be on our guard and work against hatred and violence in our hearts.
More than that, we need to take a stand against violence and hatred, against labeling others who are different from us as evil, bad, dangerous. Like Jesus, we need to respond to violence in a different, more healing, way. A wonderful example of this is King Christian X of Denmark, who resisted the Nazi occupation and especially the treatment of Jews. When the Nazi’s threatened to force Danish Jews to wear a yellow Star of David on their clothing, King Christian wrote in his diary, “we must clearly refuse such [a demand] due to their [Jews] protection under the Danish constitution. I stated that I could not meet such a demand towards Danish citizens. If such a demand is made, we would best meet it by all wearing the Star of David.”
Given this stand by the King, the Nazis backed down and never required the Danish Jews to wear the yellow star. They knew the King would make good on his threat, that all Danes would follow him, and no one could then tell who was a Jew and who was not. Taking a stand makes a difference.
Because of the growing fear and subsequent scapegoating of our fellow Muslim citizens and neighbors today, 17 churches in Austin are taking a stand by erecting a banner on their building that states that they stand with their Muslim neighbors. The University United Methodist Church did this on April 28, this past Thursday. Next Friday we as a parish community also will join in this effort to fight back against stereotyping, against fear and against hate. We will proudly post our banner on Guadalupe Street, for all to see. Our Muslim neighbors, children with us of Abraham, worship the same God we do. It would be less than fully Christian for us to not take a stand in support of the religious freedom and dignity of our neighbors. They may have to do the same for us someday. But in any case, it is the right thing to do.
The pastoral staff of the parish and the Parish Pastoral Council have discussed and approved of this step. I hope you will, too. I would like to hear your thoughts and concerns. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are a parish that respects diversity. We are a parish that extends a helping hand to people who come to us in need. I believe we are also a parish that stands up for justice and for respect for others. I think it is what Pope Francis would do. I think it is what Jesus would do.