Worshipers in the Sikh community gather for a candle light vigil after prayer services at the Sikh Religious Society of Wisconsin, Monday, Aug. 6, 2012, in Brookfield, Wis. The day before, a gunman identified as former leader of a white supremacist heavy metal band killed six people at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek.
As people of faith, and as Americans, we uphold the values of inclusion, plurality, and diversity and seek to live according to the commandment that summarized the law: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12: 31; Lev. 19:18). Together, we represent more than 45 million Christians in more than 100,000 local congregations across the U.S., Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Following a historic hearing on hate crimes and domestic extremism, we commend the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee for working to achieve this vision of unity.
We stand with our brothers and sisters who have been targets of hatred because of their race, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, gender, disability, and immigration status. Despite the legal protections offered by the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, signed in 2009, we have witnessed an epidemic of hate crimes in this country, along with a proliferation of hate groups. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups has grown by 60 percent since 2000, today numbering more than 1,000.
While the deadly shootings at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wis., on Aug. 5, 2012, captured national attention, this was not an isolated incident. Hate crimes occur daily, threatening to unravel the moral fabric of our shared society. They send waves of fear into entire communities, calling into question the freedom to live, work, and worship peacefully. Domestic extremism calls into question our assumptions as a nation about who, how, and why we classify people as “us” and “them.”
Policies and practices of racial and religious profiling perpetuate bias and divert resources that should be used to protect those on the margins of society, who are most at risk. We believe that the threat is not the “other” it is those who hate the “other.” It is morally imperative that all of us – policymakers, elected officials, religious leaders, people of faith and conscience – as neighbors seek to build communities where hate has no place.
The recent violence in Libya, Egypt and beyond underscores the urgency of Wednesday’s hearings; what happens in this country does not occur in isolation from the rest of the world. While the film at the center of the conflict itself is an expression of free speech, its divisive, toxic message has resulted in reprehensible acts of violence and hatred. Therefore, we must be bold in our calling to love our neighbor as ourselves. Just as hatred is actively incited, we must find ways to actively dissipate it – speaking truth to power, educating about and with the “other,” and loving our enemies as ourselves.
Our prayers are with those who testified at the hearing, especially Harpreet Singh who pleaded for “anti-Sikh” to be amongst the categories for hate crime data that is collected by federal agencies so that his mother’s life – lost on Aug. 5 – is accounted for properly. These are courageous acts of love and hope. How we categorize and account for acts of hatred can help us to understand their real impact on human lives, families, and communities. Moving forward, we commit ourselves to joining with others to prevent and address hate crimes and extremism so that our children and grandchildren, our neighbors and the strangers in our midst, can enjoy the fullness of life our Creator intended.
The Rev. Mark S. Hanson is the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Kathryn M. Lohre, a member of the ELCA, is the president of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA.