terrorist shooting in San Bernadino, CA.

"> Leading with Love in the Wake of Islamophobia | Forum for Theological Exploration

Leading with Love in the Wake of Islamophobia

By: Dori Baker
February 12, 2016

The clergy reminded us that our neighbors are people who look, think, act, believe or worship differently than us. We can love them for the very differences they carry in their bodies, minds, life experiences, spirits and the ways those differences enrich us all.

I live in the town of Lynchburg, Virginia. Lynchburg is home to Liberty University. It is also home to an iconic piece of public art – a huge red “LOVE” sculpture, welcoming walkers, bikers and skateboarders to our town’s riverside trail.

Liberty University has been in the national spotlight twice recently. First, the college’s president, Jerry Falwell Jr. urged a room full of undergraduates to carry concealed guns and spoke derogatorily of “those Muslims” two days after the terrorist shooting in San Bernadino, CA.

Next, that same college president stood by his decision to host Donald Trump as the featured speaker on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, despite student objections that Trump seems antagonistic to Dr. King’s cause.

In a response to Falwell’s handgun endorsement and anti-Muslim sentiment, area interfaith clergy stepped up to lead differently. They decided to lead with love. They bought an advertisement in the local newspaper celebrating the history of cooperation across Jewish, Christian, Muslim and other religious traditions in the region. They reminded readers “we are commanded by various sacred texts to love our neighbors as ourselves.”

The clergy reminded us that our neighbors are people who look, think, act, believe or worship differently than us. We can love them for the very differences they carry in their bodies, minds, life experiences, spirits and the ways those differences enrich us all.

After the second controversy, a group of Liberty students stepped up to lead differently. They launched a protest showing that not everyone at Liberty agrees with Falwell’s interpretations of King’s legacy, the Bible, or contemporary politics.

In Lynchburg, the rabbi and imam come to a monthly lunch with Christian clergy. We’ve been sharing stories, visiting one another’s homes and houses of worship, and collaborating on public rituals of grief and hope for more than a decade. Our children go to camp together: love blossoms in these kinds of spaces.

A clergy letter in a newspaper advertisement is a quiet, almost inaudible action these days. It circulated on Facebook. My mother-in-law read it to her Sunday school class. It showed up in a few classrooms and other public places. It was more like a whisper than a shout, given the realities of who holds the megaphone.

But leading with love in small quiet spaces is a viable option. It represents an alternative reality, one that can seed a future filled with hope, instead of more violence, more lines of exclusion.

When Martin Luther King spoke of an “inescapable web of mutuality” his metaphor was a particularly apt one. Webs are fragile, easily broken, ephemeral tools that also hold amazing strength and integrity. Maybe, if Christians inspire one another to continue to lead with love, we can be part of weaving a web made of whispers that grows in strength as it’s shared in ever-widening circles.

If leading with love is more like a whisper than a shout, it may mean hosting a book group on the church’s role in improving race relations or starting a multi-faith lunch group that will take ten years to bear fruit. Or reading about Thomas Merton’s immersion into Buddhism, so you can feel strengthened in your own desire to learn outside of your comfort zone. However it is you lead with love, know that such leading is part of the slow but courageous work of redefining, rebuilding, and reclaiming Christ’s way for the world we inhabit today.​

Photo: Jill Nance

Tags: Thinking Out Loud


Blog comments powered by Disqus