VOICES FROM THE PEACE FRONT
Faith Communities Come Forward
Side by Side: Lighting the Way for Sisters and Brothers at Risk
by Radwan Kalaaji, Jeff Wright, and E. J. Tivona
In August of 1967, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference immortalizing the words, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Inspired by Pastor Theodore Parker, another Christian preacher who anticipated the abolitionist movement in the mid-1800s, Reverend King carried on the time-honored tradition of justice and peace advocacy central to the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
With comparable purpose, the MuslimARC (the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative) endorsed the Respond with Love campaign, aimed at rebuilding Black Christian churches in the south damaged by arsonists in 2015. Campaign organizers quoted the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon Him, who offered a covenant of protection to the Christian community stating that, “Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants.”
Even more recently, “Bend the Arc, a Jewish Partnership for Justice,” emerged last year with a central agenda “to harness the collective energy, passion and talent of progressive American Jews to change policy and elect leaders in service of a more just and equal nation.” This is one of the more recent initiatives echoing the Torah’s verse in Deuteronomy, “Justice, justice, you shall pursue.”
In the face of the 2016 U.S. election coup and a drastic political shift to the extreme right, those who work for peace and justice in our communities and country are tempted to despair, either tiring of the length of the arc or questioning at times whether it truly bends toward justice.
With recent executive orders and policy tinkering, extremists have taken aim at vulnerable populations. Muslims, immigrants, refugees, women, LGBTQ, and other minorities are experiencing new risks to their future. Now, as in times past, it is incumbent upon us all to explore ways to reaffirm our vision and renew our strength. These days, it’s doubly important to reinvest ourselves – like the Parkers and Kings and countless others before us – in the practice of peace.
In moderate Fort Collins, Colorado, Abrahamic faith communities have an innovative idea known as Side-by-Side. The Side-by-Side initiative is a novel collaboration of hearts and minds, the inspiration of three companions in Fort Collins — a Muslim-American Syrian immigrant, a progressive Jewish woman, and a Christian pastor. The collaboration grew from our common concern for each other’s well-being, but it became something bigger than us.
We’re inviting faith communities everywhere to join in our collective vision. What we’re reaching for are strategies to manifest our common belief that all people, regardless of individual identities (race, religion, ethnicity or any other label), are created in the image of a higher Spirit. The impulse that moves in each of us in the wake of the bruising rhetoric of 2016 is to take actions grounded in this core belief.
Our mission is simply to be and to act in the world in ways that resist division and instead draw humankind together in unity of thought and action. Does this imply that we always agree with each other? No. It does mean that we are committed to whatever it takes to listen closely, to comprehend points-of-view that may differ from our own, and to act in ways that reflect our collective desire for compassion and security for the most vulnerable among us. This is what we mean by practicing peace. More than contemplation and conversation, we want to find ways to enact peace.
Follow us at #sidebyside and help us develop the core principles of this mission along with concrete and practical actions to give this vision legs in Northern Colorado and beyond.
Several strategic ideas that we are bringing forward with allies and supporters include:
We encourage you to renew your commitment to justice as together we walk along the arc and do our part in bending it toward justice.
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