BlogPost: Hate and Violence in Tempe, Arizona

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c5292c_3ba26f6da99f1055eee01e3272016dedI seem to be hearing of more reports of hateful and violent behavior by certain ultra conservative Christian groups on and around the ASU campus, let alone Tempe. A local “pastor” (I use that term loosely) called for the execution of all homosexuals, among other dangerous statements he has made. There have been incidents in which our friends in the Muslim community have been harassed outside their Mosque on Friday nights as they enter for prayer. The most recent action happened last Friday night when a group stood outside the Mosque just north of ASU and ripped up a Qur’an, spat on it, and then yelled hate-filled words at worshipers as they entered for prayer (especially the women wearing head scarves). The Tempe police were called, but because the haters were on the sidewalk and were not directly threatening anyone, the police said there was nothing they could do.

Tempe Interfaith (also known as TEAM), of which I am a part, has been talking for more than a year about what seems like an increase in boldness and frequency of these types of behavior around campus and in Tempe. Muslim students at ASU, who are often from other countries and do not understand our very liberal “free speech” laws, are very afraid of being physically attacked as a result. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has gotten involved and is trying to work with ASU administrators to respond to these behaviors. CORA (Council of Religious Advisors) at ASU, of which I am also a member as the leader of UKIRK Presbyterian Campus Ministry, has been talking about it and trying to respond.

Some of the leaders of these hate groups have been around ASU for years. But the newer ones are younger, much more bold, and, by my definition, violent. Various attempts to engage or counter-protest have been attempted. Now, I get free speech. But at what point does it become hate speech that threatens the lives and well being of people? Does someone have to get physically injured for it to be deemed inappropriate enough to take action? What is our prophetic and biblical call as followers of Jesus Christ to respond to these people who claim they are acting on behalf of the same God we worship?

As a start, I have added my name to statements that have been or will be published denouncing these individuals and groups who spread hate. The Rev. Erin Tamayo of the Arizona Faith Network and the Rev. Sue Ringler of the Tempe Interfaith (TEAM) have crafted a statement and are inviting leaders to sign on to the statement. I encourage you to share it with your friends and family through email and social media like Facebook. Here is the statement:

Amid the horrific and offensive event that happened outside the Tempe Islamic Community Center of Tempe on Friday April 10th, we as the faith community would like to express our complete concern and solidarity with our brothers and sisters in faith. The incident included men carrying hateful signs yelling at people attending the mosque, ripping the Qur’an, throwing it on the ground and spitting on it. This incident is against all that we believe in, and we make this statement as followers of different faiths, each lifting up the sacredness of our scriptures and the holiness of our faith communities.

In a world where religious pluralism continues to grow, we call for all people to refrain from hateful speech or acts such as those suffered by our Muslim brothers and sisters last week. We must promote peace and solidarity with a strength that will weaken any effort meant to bring intimidation or a sense of insecurity to a community rooted in deep religious principles.

We call not only on the faith communities but on our local community as a whole to stand up to anyone who uses hateful speech to try to provoke violent actions. We are stronger together and only solidarity will be able to triumph against such a horrific event. For this reason, we call on each of us to join in voice and in prayer to say that this must stop. We express our deep concern and also our friendship as we reach out to Imam Ahmad Shqeirat and the Islamic Community Center of Tempe in solidarity.

Disagreement, even heated, is not the same thing as “hate.” What these groups are doing constitutes “hate.” One of the values we share at UPC comes from the example we have witnessed in Jesus Christ and is included in our Statement of Diversity, which is on our website and printed each week on the inside front cover of our bulletin: “We seek to challenge injustice, discrimination and inequality wherever it exists, and to transform the world through the inclusive love of God. Beginning with ourselves and looking beyond our congregation, we celebrate the image of God in every person.”

I welcome your comments here and on Facebook on how we might curb this disturbing, terror-inducing, and hate-filled violent behavior. I hope we will continue to live into this value and, in the words of Jesus, “not be afraid.”

Pastor Eric

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