Introduction & Welcome

Islam in the Public Square
Town Hall Seattle
October 29, 2016

Introduction

By Randolph Urmston, Attorney

May I have your attention. Welcome to Islam in the Public Square. My name is Randy Urmston, chair of the Bishop’s Committee, for the Episcopal Church in Western Washington. The Bishop’s Committee is one of the many sponsors of this conference that are listed in your folder.

Before going any further, I would like to acknowledge Mary Pneuman of the Bishop’s Committee and St. Thomas Episcopal Parish, and Mohamed Jawad Khaki of the Ithna-asheri Association of the Northwest (IMAN) in Kirkland, who conceived of and led the implementation of this conference. (Please stand)

To get us started, it is my pleasure to introduce Bishop Gregory H. Rickel, the 8th elected Bishop of the Diocese of Olympia, serving all Episcopalians in Western Washington. Bishop Rickel embraces radical hospitality that welcomes all, no matter where they find themselves on their journey of faith. He envisions a church that is a safe and authentic community in which to explore God’s infinite goodness and grace as revealed in the life and continuing revelation of Jesus Christ. It was Bishop Rickel’s leadership in interfaith work, going back to his involvement in the Confronting Islamophobia conference in 2011, through his recent video series — Meeting our Muslim Neighbors — that inspired the Bishop’s Committee to pursue this conference.

Welcome

By Rt. Rev. Gregory Rickel, VIII Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Olympia

It is the greatest honor and privilege to be here to welcome all of you, and to give thanks for and with all of you, for being willing, on a rainy Saturday, to come together to try to better understand our neighbors. Especially in these days we find ourselves living in.

In December, now nearly a year ago, I began my blog with this:

The words are getting dangerous. Fear is winning. Some among us are becoming self-fulfilling prophets, playing into the hands of those who wish us harm, instead of living out of our “better angels.” So much of what we are hearing today was exactly the talk that led to Japanese internment camps, and the concentration camps and the gas chambers of Germany. It is really easy to downplay that.

Many did then too.

I went on in that blog to say more about what I saw happening in this election and in our country. It would be easy to say what our election reveals about the candidates and leave it at that, but what is more daunting to me is what it says about us. And it proves we have a lot of work yet to do.

Just yesterday, the Refugee Resettlement Office which our Diocese operates and has for nearly 40 years, who is resettling, by and large, Muslim families, from Iraq, Syria, and many other countries, reported that their office received four harassing phone calls from different individuals, all vaguely threatening, and I am just repeating what they said, that if Trump gets elected the RRO will be shut down. There was a lot of anti-refugee rhetoric. He also said it sounded like these individuals were all reading from a similar script. The office has also been vandalized with graffiti several times, all within a short span, and this keeps happening.

We, in all our faith traditions, have seen this before. We all know some version of it, and quite frankly we all have been the perpetrators as well. When Jesus was crucified, it was easy to blame the Jews as a whole, and when that became unpopular or difficult, we blamed the Romans. Even centuries later, on Good Friday, when reading the Passion Gospel, often hoards of Christians would rush out of churches, flood into Jewish neighborhoods terrorizing, and in some cases, murdering them on account of that version of the story. This is exactly what is happening now, blaming a whole people, a whole religion, for specific acts. Acts perpetrated by evil men, not the entirety of a race or a belief system. These days, and these words, are no different. I am saddened by the numbers that sign up for such blatant generalization. I am even more concerned and baffled as to what it says about us as a people.

A few years ago I met Arsalan Bukhari. Arsalan is the Executive Director of CAIR-Washington. CAIR stands for Counsel on American-Islamic Relations. He is a fine man and I have always been blessed to be in his company. But a few months before that December article, before the tensions I was writing about had reared its ugly head, I asked him a simple question,

“How can your Christian sisters and brothers be neighbors to you and our Muslim sisters and brothers?”

That question began a dialogue, and eventually the idea of series of videos at my request and invitation. We had no idea how important those would become, or how many would watch them. The idea of them was to teach, for us Christians to learn, and to not just accept the sound bites, or the hate, as the truth.

This day is about the same. It is an effort to break down the stereotypes, those we consciously hold, and perhaps even more those we unconsciously hold. It will not be easy work and it will have to go on after today.

But I will say, as a Christian, it is our work. So, today, I thank you for being here, but I am going to ask something of you too. I believe personally, what has been said by many a person smarter than me, that our prayers to God are not for God, they are for us. They are designed and put to voice, as calls to us. We cannot just serve them up and hope God does something with them, and us, alone. We are part of the equation, we have to listen to the prayers, and then get up and move, act, do something. Today is one way we do that, but what will be most important, is what you do with what you learn today, tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.

So I urge a quest for more knowledge, and facts, and relationships, instead of accepting the unexamined hyperbole often put forward, I urge a more positive response to this fear, one which might challenge and stretch you, but one that is more about “leaning into” this issue, instead of running from the unexamined and the unknown.

Engage this issue, in your community, and in your church.

Learn, grow, share, change. I believe nothing less than our souls and the soul of this country are at stake. thank you and God bless you.