Religious extremism around the world has lesson for us in Tacoma

The Rev. Dave Brown of Tacoma
The Rev. Dave Brown of Tacoma

Four days after the Easter Sunday church bombings in Sri Lanka, Muslims in that country called a fast in solidarity with their Christian and non-Christian friends who died or experienced pain, trauma and suffering from the attacks.

Last month, after attacks by a white supremacist on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand took the lives of people gathered for worship, more than 1,000 people attended an interfaith vigil and anti-Islamophobia “teach- in” at the Muslim Association of Puget Sound in Redmond.

Likewise, an overflow crowd gathered at the Islamic Center of Tacoma to express solidarity with the Muslim community after the Christchurch attacks.

Around the world, when one religious community is attacked we witness men and women from different faith groups respond by standing with their neighbors. These expressions of togetherness in response to horrific acts of violence are a rejection of the hatred and ideology behind the attacks.

Acts of solidarity are and will continue to be important signs of hope. They affirm our common humanity.

But is solidarity enough?

Just like “thoughts and prayers” alone are an inadequate response to a school shooting, acts of solidarity in response to violence against a religious community are not enough.

In the case of a school shooting, “thoughts and prayers” must be joined with hard work for legislative change and political action directed toward gun laws.

In the case of violence by one religious group against another, such as what we saw in Sri Lanka against Christians, in Christchurch against Muslims and in Pittsburgh (and now San Diego) against Jewish communities, expressions of solidarity need to be joined by a clear repudiation of religious superiority and exclusivity, which create the fertile soil for religious or racial extremism to take root and grow.

This means people from non-Muslim religious traditions who gathered as a sign of solidarity last month in Redmond and Tacoma need to look hard at their own faith tradition and ask how it contributes to intolerance – and what needs to change.

Solidarity with those who have suffered a religiously based attack must be accompanied by serious, critical reflection on how one’s own religious tradition, texts and teachings may contribute to the hatred and demonization of those who are not like you.

Religious exclusivism, or the belief that your tradition is the only path to God, is not only arrogant, it also divides communities and nurtures a distrust of the other. In extreme cases, it can lead to emotional or physical violence.

It is time for people of faith to look honestly at their religious tradition and the parts of that tradition that promote religious exclusivism, and to clearly reject them.

I believe it is possible to embrace an inclusive spirituality without losing the unique beauty and truth of one’s religious tradition.

As a Christian pastor I believe one way we embrace Jesus’ command to love our neighbors is to look critically at our own faith.

Rev. Dave Brown is a writer, creator and host of Blues Vespers and one of the PNW Interfaith Amigos. He was pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Tacoma.