3/26 – Washington Post – In a diverse America, who is my neighbor? – The Faith Divide – The Washington Post

In a diverse America, who is my neighbor? – The Faith Divide – The Washington Post.

Posted at 11:11 PM ET, 03/26/2011
Today’s guest blogger is David Fraccaro, an ordained United Church of Christ Minister who works at Interfaith Youth Core as coordinator of the “Stranger to Neighbor” initiative which seeks to build greater interfaith collaboration and friendship between diverse communities of faith and their immigrant/refugee neighbors.

Last week, Kansas State Rep. Virgil Peck suggested the state’s “solution” to the undocumented immigration issue in the region should be handled the same way some Kansas farmers deal with migrating feral hogs – shooting them from a helicopter.

A day later, when asked about his comment Peck responded, “I was just speaking like a southeast Kansas person.”

While condemnations came quickly from both sides of the political aisle, no significant action has been taken to punish Mr. Peck, despite calls for his resignation.

Mr. Peck’s comments must be taken very seriously, as hate speech of this kind has always been foundational for the mass dehumanization and annihilation of a targeted group throughout human history. Jews were described as “vermin” by Nazi supporters, and Tutsi’s as “cockroaches” leading up to the Rwandan genocide.

Nearly two weeks later, it is crucial that all Americans call for significant disciplinary measures for any public official using such dangerous language. Without it, hate groups and xenophobic individuals are further empowered to carry out violent acts against our newest immigrant neighbors.

Nancy Escobedo, 15, second from left, Luz Sanchez, third from left, and David Rosas, fourth from left, protest state bills yet to fully pass legislation which aim to crack down on illegal immigration, during a rally at the capitol, Thursday, March 24, 2011, Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis) (John Amis – AP)

Equally important however is the response from the diverse communities of throughout Kansas, especially communities of faith that share the sacred values of welcoming the stranger and protecting the inherent dignity of every human being as a valued part of Creation.

For the past twenty years new immigrants and refugees from places like Mexico, Somalia, and Southeast Asia, have been coming to work in numerous meatpacking and textile plants throughout the Midwest, changing the cultural, racial and religious dynamics of America’s Heartland.

Churches, temples and mosques have often been and continue to be the moral compass for how rural and suburban communities relate to new immigrant diversity. They are essential for not only condemning bigotry, but for working together to build positive relationships between existing citizens and their new immigrant/refugee neighbors.

Two new excellent documentaries, Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door, premiering on CNN this Sunday and Welcome to Shelbyville, premiering on PBS this Spring, offer a glimpse into the role faith communities can play in building these bridges, as well as what can happen in small town communities if they don’t.

As alternate tales of hope and despair unfold in both documentaries, a primary lesson becomes clear: Americans will not let somebody like Mr. Peck get away with his comments if they have laughed, prayed, eaten with, or volunteer alongside a new immigrant neighbor.

Diverse faith communities must continue to find creative ways to bring new neighbors together, for the good of all Americans.


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