The following is Tina Clarke‘s reflections on the recent threat of Rev Terry Jones to burn the Koran on the anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Tina is active in Transition US with lots of experience on diversity and inclusion. I think you’ll find her thoughts of great interest…
Rev. Terry Jones’ 9-11 threat to burn copies of the Koran violates fundamental values of religious freedom, religious diversity, and respect for all people. To many Muslim Americans, his threat is part of a pattern of growing intolerance in the U.S. How do we understand this kind of behavior, and what does it mean for our work to transition our communities?
As major changes in economic, climate and weather, and energy costs unfold in the years ahead, stress and loss can spark conflict and prejudice. The true unemployment rate in the U.S. was reported last week as probably 22%. One in every 381 homes in the U.S. has been faced with foreclosure in recent months. In my own low-income area, newspapers and social service agencies are reporting unusual depression, homelessness and suicide as people struggle to find work.
Years ago, during the recession of the late 1970s, I witnessed the rise of fundamentalist Christian groups in my home state of Kansas. A “mainline” Presbyterian with six clergy among my closest kin, I had been carefully schooled in the importance of tolerance, respect and “love of neighbor as oneself.”
Yet other Christians I met from the poor, rural parts of the state had found their identity in a righteous anger towards those who did not adhere to their strict doctrine. As documented in the book, What Ever Happened To Kansas?, the rise of right-wing funded, quasi-Christian issue groups and radio talk show hosts started fomenting anger at immigrants and gays, liberals and atheists. This industry of intolerance is today enormous, with daily audio and electronic attacks that inflame emotions and divide people. The fear and blame they promote aggravate the challenges of coming together and solving our common problems. Some of these verbal assaults on minorities are funded by groups with economic interests at stake. Others, perhaps like those of Rev. Jones, are signs of individual and group emotional and psychological wounding.
I asked an elder of the American Civil Rights Movement, The Rev. Canon Ed Rodman, what he thought of Rev. Terry Jones. Rev. Rodman is a Professor of Pastoral Theology and Urban Ministry at the Episcopal Divinity School (an Anglican institution) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A co-founder of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s, Rev. Rodman has been educating Christian clergy and lay leaders in anti-racism and multi-cultural skills for over 40 years. What does Ed think?
“It was a lot of foolishness. The media blew it out of proportion. They created that story.” He added, “The problem with a guy like Jones, and any other true-believer, is that they don’t have any kind of concept of justice and equity, and the degree to which they are prepared to commit suicide to promote their opinion increases harm to everyone.”
Last week Zareena Grewal, a professor of American studies and religion at Yale University, spoke of how the increasing hostility towards Muslims is “one more chapter in a long history of civil rights struggles in this country”. She noted that “one in five…Americans think that Obama is Muslim…you know, people thought FDR was a Jew. And people thought Lincoln was a Catholic…it’s part of American history that when times are tough, Americans project their anxieties about racial, ethnic and religious minorities on their presidents.” www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129780832&ft=1&f=1016
As oil costs rise, and simmering economic troubles and the climate heat up, we are at increased risk of mental and emotional distress. As loss of income, water, food and other necessities (or perceived necessities) unfold, those who are struggling, desperate and ashamed, and those who feel they are entitled to a higher standard of living, may become more susceptible to charismatic ministers, politicians, talk show hosts and others who preach anger and violence. A drastically changing world will increase the risks of racism, domestic violence, intolerance and hate groups.
What can help reduce the likelihood and extent of intolerance?
I find that the purpose, principles and components of the Transition model are key aspects of increasing tolerance. When we unite “earth care” with “people care” and fair shares”, focusing on inclusion, respect for all voices, and equity, we are doing fundamental healing and violence prevention work. The Transition process gives us essential tools for peace and equity-building in our communities: we focus on outreach, practical community projects to help everyone, awareness-raising, community conversation, collaborative partnering with the full spectrum of groups and networks in our community, and the “Great Unleashing” — a community celebration that brings us together — unites a large number of “neighbors” in a common purpose: transitioning for the common good.
As we organize skills workshops and collaborate to increase local food production, local commerce and local energy, we will increase “deeper resilience” by placing a high priority on outreach to ALL members of our communities.
To do this “deep resilience” work effectively we need to educate ourselves more about the racism, inequities, intolerance and exclusion in our society. We need to understand institutional racism – the subtle yet powerful ways that prejudice harms individuals, groups, the fabric of community – and our collective well-being as the firestorm of change unfolds. We need to become “multi-culturally competent” to thrive in the new world described by Bill McKibben in his latest book, Eaarth , and we need to join multicultural movements such as the Getting To Work Day on 10-10-10 – the global day of humanity coming together to rescue the climate! (Join up at www.350.org.)
As we do “deep resilience” Transition work – strengthening multi-cultural community relationships and collective resilience across race, class, religion, privilege, etc., we increase collective emotional resilience. The crazy stunts and threats of the few will be seen as aberrant and pointless by the great many of our neighbors. When change unfolds, people want real solutions more than they want to hate. Our work helps people get focused on practical action, brings emotional rewards of connection and common purpose. Transition is an inoculation against human breakdown. It is inoculation against hate.
Rev. Terry Jones reminds us that we must not assume that tolerance and respect will be automatic in the years ahead. As we study local currencies and permaculture, we must also must make the study of privilege and intolerance — and the practice of respect and caring — central to our Transition work.