Second responder

The Rev. Rick Cole speaks out against nationalism and vengeance

Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno. His column, Greenlight, appears weekly in this space.

With the anniversary of September 11, there were celebrations of courage. We gave thanks for the bravery of the first responders who went into the burning twin towers and saved many lives.

But courage comes in many packages. On September 8, the Sacramento Area League of Associated Muslims presented a “Working Together for a More Perfect Union” public meeting. There were many insightful, articulate and heartfelt speakers, including a Muslim scholar, a Rabbi, numerous other religious leaders, an FBI representative and a Sacramento County sheriff. And we also heard from the Rev. Rick Cole of Capital Christian Center.

Pastor Rick, as he is called by his staff, was at SALAM talking about his “good friend, Mohamed Abdul-Azeez,” the Imam of SALAM.

Pastor Rick did not have to come to this meeting. But he did. Unlike many of the other speakers whose organizations have a long history of support for interfaith efforts, many of Cole’s conservative congregation might actually have a problem with the concept. Despite this, Pastor Rick showed up.

Just as it takes courage to go into a burning building, it takes guts to risk alienating your congregation or possibly splitting your church. Pastor Rick could have easily remained silent. But he spoke out. And I was moved by his words.

“So much of the shaping of this memory has come from American nationalism and vengeance. Two wars, thousands of deaths and trillions of dollars later, one must only allude to 9/11 to justify violence and discrimination. As such, the memory of 9/11 becomes not a token of solemn reflection and mourning but an excuse for our own acts of hatred and violence.

“Today I am more convinced than ever that there is indeed a relational God present, personal and involved in the midst of the mess and wonder of humanity, who is good all the time, and who respects the human creation more than we do; that there is a spirit who is stirring countless hearts to everything that is good, causing us to question the fundamental paradigms that push us to harm and hurt and, in turn, inspiring us to create the new, the profound, the elegant and the beautiful.

“We mourn the terrible loss of life and the impact on their families. And we search our hearts for forgiveness toward those who caused this pain. I would also seek the forgiveness of those who have innocently been targets of retribution and profiling. We are brothers created by the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. As your neighbor, I am here to embrace you and love you in the spirit of Jesus.”

It takes courage to stand up for your beliefs when members of your own community may not like what you have to say. Pastor Rick is a second responder. We need more people like him.