The past few months have been a trying time for people of faith around the world. Christians and Islamic minorities have been persecuted, killed, raped, hanged etc. Jews have been cornered into synagogues, their shop windows have been broken, and they have been beaten, in some cases killed. Pictures emerging from the incidents have harkened back to a dark period of world history; some evoke thoughts of the medieval period, others from Nazi Germany. All are shocking, but none more so than the fact that our governments and our media have done little to halt such rhetoric.
It is with this latter notion, that I attended an interfaith event in my capacity as the Rabbi of the ACT Jewish Community in Canberra, Australia. Members of the Bahai, Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities were represented. While the event as a whole was fitting, it did little to call upon our elected officials to make a change in their policies and help the disenfranchised members of our faiths. It was an evening that was designed to comfort those in attendance while doing little to help the people that we were there to support.
I am a big supporter of interfaith work, I believe that we have a larger voice when we group together and call for action as a united front especially despite our differences. But we need to have the voice to call out. We cannot hide behind our edifices and places of worship and think that our isolated prayer meetings will reverse the tides of darkness; we must take a public stand and demand change.
In the 2012 censuses in both Australia and the United States of America more than 70 percent of the adult population identified as being of a faith group, the overwhelming majority in both countries belonging to a denomination of Christianity. In these two countries alone we see over two hundred million people that could unite together, move past their differences and bolster efforts to ensure the safety and security of those members of our faith and others who are being threatened on a daily basis.
When people protested the Vietnam War, when hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets for demonstrations, a clear message was sent to the United States Government that people had had enough. The same is true for other civil rights movements, such as the Black Civil Rights movement’s March on Washington in 1963. Actions speak louder than words. We have the potential to call out with the same volume, with the same passion and with the same strength, to denounce the cycle of violence and ensure the safety people of faith worldwide.
We have to make sure that we are people of action; all people who identify themselves with a faith. We need to say that religious persecution is not acceptable and that the silence of our politicians and our leaders is deafening. The Mishnah states in Sanhedrin, chapter 4, Mishnah 9, that “whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world”.
Haven’t enough worlds already been destroyed because of our inability to see past our differences and present a united faith-based response that speaks to the public and to our governments rather than a few concerned souls sitting at a prayer service?