Let’s become better neighbors

There’s no place for hate speech in America

Jim Peck is pastor of the Congregational Church of Chico, United Church of Christ, and secretary of the Chico Area Interfaith Council.

The decision of a troubled and troubling pastor in Florida to cancel his plans to burn the Quran is welcome. Unfortunately, the damage to America’s Muslim population was done. In recent months, his was not the only voice provoking irrational fears of Islam and those who practice it.

Muslim friends in Chico have described the increased stress and heightened tension they feel. The way some prominent voices in American life are promoting fear of Muslims concerns them. They want to live their lives without fear, as do all Americans, regardless of their religious practices.

I am a Christian pastor serving a theologically liberal congregation. We respect and appreciate other ways of knowing and understanding God. We believe this respect and appreciation are consistent with Jesus’ teachings to love our neighbor as ourselves and with Paul’s instruction to live peaceably with all.

Without hesitation, then, I denounce the burning of the Quran or the sacred text of any religion as inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus. Further, speech that promotes hate, even if protected by the First Amendment, diminishes civil society and undermines the common good.

In Luke 10, Jesus is asked “Who is my neighbor?” The Parable of the Good Samaritan, a teaching story, is his response. In it, a man beaten and left for dead on a roadside is cared for by a member of a minority, someone the questioner did not expect. One lesson from this parable: “The person in front of you, who has a face, a name, a story—that person is your neighbor.” It is almost impossible to hate someone whose face, name and story you know.

The Chico Area Interfaith Council brings together representatives from Jewish, Muslim, Baha’i, and several different kinds of Christian congregations, plus other spiritual paths. The Interfaith Council creates space for people from different religious communities to meet each other, to learn names, to share stories, to become better neighbors, and to become trusted friends.

On Sunday, Oct. 3, the Interfaith Council is hosting a picnic. It is open to persons of any faith or spiritual practice. Join us from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Five-Mile Recreation Area in Bidwell Park. Please bring a vegetarian dish to share.

Join us to celebrate and affirm religious freedom, tolerance and diversity, to say we are not afraid of each other, and to become better neighbors.