In a poll released this week by PRRI, an increasing number of Americans believe that violence may be necessary to “save our country.” Eighteen percent of all Americans agreed. That is a lot of people.
The most challenging thing I have learned in the last six years is that those who remain silent or actively participate in genocide are often convinced that this violence is necessary or even good. As a child I imagined those who participate in violence as intending to do wrong. As an adult I know that is often not the case. People can be convinced, usually by being told what they love is in danger, to participate in violence or oppression – or stand by passively. Once people are convinced that what they love is in danger a second argument can be used: that God or the Divine approves of this violence.
Looking at the poll, we can see that 27% of people who believe that God has granted America a special role in human history believe that violence is necessary to “save our country.” This kind of divine sanction serves as a kind of “get out of responsibility” card.
It seems that more and more Americans are getting the message that violence is permitted.
In the last few months, we have seen an increase in vandalism, arson, and attacks on houses of prayer. Among these are:
- October 19, 2021 – break-in and attack on religiously-significant material at Masjid Umar Al-Farooq (the mosque at Mountlake Terrace)
- October 11, 2021 – fire identified as arson at Islamic Center of Tacoma
- October 10, 2021 – vandalism at Saint Edward Church in Seattle
- September 21, 2021 – aggravated assault on Buddhist nun at Khmer Theravadin Buddhist Temple in Tacoma
- September 17, 2021– break-in and attack on religiously significant material on Khalsa Gurmat Center in Federal Way
- August 2021 – vandalism at Saint Benedict Church in Seattle
On Sunday several hundred people gathered at Tacoma Community College to show that people of all wisdom traditions stand with one another. I was honored to be there on behalf of the PTU community. Many of the impacted communities spoke of the impact of these acts on their community, their response of compassion, and their solidarity with each other. They each made it clear that they stood with each other based on the values their traditions uphold.
It was a beautiful event, and a powerful one.
In the last six years I have also learned that when people get off the sidelines and stand together with those impacted by violence, the cycle of violence can be interrupted. On Sunday people of all wisdom traditions stood with one another to uphold the human dignity of all and our aspirational constitutional value of freedom to pray or not pray as we wish.
The good news of the poll was that the vast majority of Americans (98%) believe that what makes us American is our commitment to certain values.
This means that we can appeal to common values for a more peaceful and just world. This is exactly what happened at the event in Tacoma on Sunday.
I encourage all of us to make connections with the communities of wisdom in our neighborhoods. Eat and share stories. Do some simple community service together. Show up in public with one another.
These simple acts of relationship and mutual respect and shared values can shine like a beacon of hope in our communities.