Compassion: Orlando

by Teresa Cowan Jones

We mourn the loss of life of our brothers and sisters in Orlando and hold hope for healing and love for all the victims and their families and friends. May we all hold tight to the universal value of compassion, especially for the marginalized, and reach out to each other and to the source of life — the ground of all being, however you define it — for support in our grief.

I hear responses to this tragedy that seem to force a choice between love and accountability. We can hold these together; love provides both the means and the end.

We stand with the LGBTQ+ people and all those who are oppressed in the work of both love and justice, which must go together for either to have meaning.

We invite all to reclaim public space as safe space for human feeling and connection and to do so because, and not in spite of, our differences. Together only will we find our way to both honor the rich uniqueness of our cultures and wisdom traditions and celebrate our oneness as humanity. It’s OK that we don’t know how just yet. We will make mistakes but with the goal of compassion, we can stumble together to find our way to a new way of living and being together in which all beings are honored and have dignity.

Hate crimes and terrorist activity demand that we come together in love and solidarity. In Sacred Space this week, we’ll look with new eyes at the sayings of Jesus to help us stay sure-footed in both compassion and justice. We need not let beliefs, religions, race, gender or sexual orientation separate us anymore. We can be one.

May we all love, together, now.  May we focus on our unity and strength and continue to draw encouragement from each other in and for the creation of beloved community.  Let us look at our collective human heritage of the world’s wisdom traditions to teach us a new path.  Let us get to know the stranger – the seeming other – in a way that heals the human species and the planet.

May we let our collective and rightful outrage fuel the changes for which we can no longer wait or assign to someone else. May we all feel now and act now.

Jesus’ Solidarity with the Least of These

by Amos Smith

Jesus’ solidarity with “the least of these” plants him among the prophets. Jeremiah and Isaiah said the measure of a society is how it treats its least powerful. How would America measure up?

How do we treat those without adequate health care? How do we treat the elderly who can’t afford their medicine? How do we treat our poor neighboring countries? What are our priorities? Are they as George Herbert Walker Bush put it, to be a “kinder and gentler nation?” Do we send neighboring countries the food and medicine they need or do we send them fighter planes and guns? Our obligation to the poor and powerless has deep Biblical roots, echoing through the generations of prophets leading up to Jesus.

In the fullness of time, God entered the messiness of history. God entered into solidarity with the human family to show us the way. Jesus walked the dusty streets of Palestine in sandals. Jesus entered into solidarity with the poor and suffering. Authentic Christianity continues to enter into the fray of poverty and affliction. This is Christianity’s legacy—to show God’s love through service to “the least of these.”

What I Learned About Peace From an Imam

by Ryan Gear

The recent photo of two­-year old Aylan Kurdi’s body washed up on the beach in Turkey shocked the world. Human beings with any sense of decency were cut to the heart at the loss of this little boy and the thousands of other children and adults he represents who ave been killed in recent Middle East conflict.

As European countries rightly welcome Muslim refugees from Syria, anti­-Muslim and anti-immigrant fervor is rearing it’s ugly head once again. A nationalist party in Britain released a fear­-mongering anti­-Muslim/anti­immigration video featuring wild math about birthrates and a ludicrous doomsday ending. Closer to home, we are witnessing a level of both anti-immigrant and anti-­Muslim nationalism in our current presidential campaign that has never been higher.

With irresponsible and even dangerous rhetoric increasing, we cannot afford to remain silent any longer. It is past time for all peace­-loving Christians to stand up and speak out loudly in favor of empathy and hospitality toward the immigrant and the Muslim. This is not simply a “liberal” cause. The need for Christians to speak out is based on this undeniable fact– the most vitriolic and xenophobic language in America is not coming from Muslims; it is coming from far right wing nationalists who claim to be Christians. The Muslims I know speak out for peace regularly but find it hard to gain media coverage.

This past May, I scheduled a series of sermons at One Church entitled Religions of the World. During that series, I invited a rabbi and an imam to speak on Judaism and Islam respectively. They both represented their faiths very well.

Prior to the series, I had been looking forward to having lunch with a local imam named Khalil. He speaks regularly at interfaith gatherings and flatly condemns all violence in the name of Islam. He is one of the moderate Muslims who is accused by right wing persons of not speaking out enough against terrorism. Like many American Muslim leaders, however, he speaks out against violence continually. It’s just that he has trouble getting his message into the news media.

I suspect that the cable news channels that complain that Muslim leaders do not speak out rarely invite Muslim leaders on air to speak out. After all, if you invite Muslim leaders on air to condemn violence, you can’t induce fear and rage in your viewers by claiming that Muslim leaders won’t speak out. Fear and rage drive up ratings, but what kind of ratings do calm, reasonable Muslim voices get you? Depending on the news outlet, inviting them to speak might drive away viewers.

Khalil and I had a very pleasant, thoroughly enjoyable conversation over a two­and-­a­-half hour lunch. We shared stories of how we entered the ministry and what our respective religion means to us. To him, Islam means peace. He beautifully articulated how Islam provides a holistic way of life, and I was struck by how similar it sounded to a Christian’s explanation of why she or he wants to follow Jesus. We joked about the common experiences that clergypersons have, regardless of their religion. As our server kept pouring fresh cups of coffee, we discovered that we have a great deal in common. I now consider Khalil a friend.

After our lunch, I drove home and saw the headlines that ISIS had burned Jordanian pilot Moaz al­Kasasbeh alive. ISIS commits revolting, brutal murders on video in order to recruit more terrorists and provoke endless conflict with the West. As you know, a war with the West is part of their fundamentalist, apocalyptic fantasy.

Curious to see all opinions, I typed into my browser and read an article titled “ISIS Burns Jordanian Pilot: Mr. Obama, when will you get angry about radical Islam?” In two sentences, the author called for vengeance and dehumanized the enemy. “America wants to know, when is President Obama going to get angry? When is he going to slam his fist on the desk, demand vengeance, put aside his incessant campaigning and call out the Islamic radicals of ISIS as the animals they are?”

I support thoughtful U.S. intervention on behalf of innocent people, but on a news outlet known for catering to conservative Christians, what does angry, dehumanizing vengeance have to do with the teaching of Jesus?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:43­-45)

Just as famously, Paul (in Romans 12:19) referenced Deuteronomy 32:35: “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” The King James translation is still the best remembered, saying, “’Vengeance is mine; I will repay,’ saith the Lord.”

I believe in protecting the innocent from terrorists like ISIS, but this opinion piece and much of the news coverage of Muslims is an example of violent, vengeful, dehumanizing war rhetoric that is diametrically opposed to the teaching of Jesus.

And do we even need to remind everyone of the recent dehumanizing statements toward Latino immigrants by a presidential candidate?

Progressive Christians speak out regularly in defense of peace-­loving Muslims in our communities. Following the inflammatory anti­-Muslim protest in Phoenix this past spring, we saw how beautiful solidarity can be between Christians and Muslims.

Progressive Christians also speak against xenophobia and urge immigration reform that welcomes immigrants into the United States as though we were welcoming Jesus, Himself (Matthew 25:35).

This, however, can no longer be only a progressive Christian cause. Now, I think it’s time to ask a different question:

When are moderate Christians going to stand up and condemn this kind of un­Christian, vengeful rhetoric toward immigrants and Muslims?

Millions of Christians consume xenophobic and inflammatory “news” on a daily basis. When a prominent piece such as this one goes unchallenged by a large number of moderate Christians, I have to ask, where does their allegiance lie—with a cable news channel or with Jesus Christ?

The fact is, my lunch with an imam was far more peace­loving than the opinion piece I read afterward. Who has the inside track on making peace?

Ryan Gear is the founding pastor of One Church, a nondenominational progressive church in Chandler, Arizona. He is the founder of, a growing national directory of churches willing to wrestle with questions and doubts. Ryan writes regularly for religion blogs such as OnFaith and Convergent Books and has been featured in Real Clear Religion. Ryan also serves as an initiator in Convergence U.S., a national movement bringing together forward-thinking Catholics, Evangelicals, and mainline Protestants, along with ethnic and peace churches and other willing colleagues.

Follow Ryan on Twitter at