Rev. Brian Merritt’s Message At Prayers in Solidarity with Muslim Sisters and Brothers

I would like to start us with a reflection to center our prayers for our sisters and brothers in the Muslim community. A universal spiritual principles affirmed by most humans as a starting point for walking together in this life is loving our neighbor as ourselves. It is love that compels us to stand here this afternoon as our sisters and brothers prepare to pray together. Yet, love is a complicated action. It is not only love for our Muslim sisters and brothers that compels us to stand in solidarity with them, but a pernicious love of Jim Hammond hoping he sees the very dangerous nature of his rhetoric, turning from it’s path.

I read the quote in our paper in response to 4 civil rights organizations where Jim asked, “What did I say that was offensive?” We are here to witness that an offensive opinion is a much different one from one that is dangerous. When an elected, armed public official indicates that he is beginning in depth investigations against a religious community, that is dangerous. When in public statements he characterizes “peaceful” muslims as merely secular and that the true nature of that religion is to overthrow our government, that is dangerous. When Jim Hammond has signed on to an organization that sees sheriff’s as part of their “army” to take back our country from threats within, that is dangerous.

What is the danger? The danger is to religious freedom, and it’s free excersize without the threat of government reprisal. We ask, in love, that those like Jim Hammond turn their hearts toward love of their neighbor. A Muslim’s religion is not a local, national or worldwide security threat anymore than any other religion. As a Christian I can say that with the utmost humility, conviction and repentance.

We now have religious communities within Chattanooga that now feel intimidated by elected officials. They also feel misunderstood and frightened. How can we effectively counter fear and move this place to love?

It is time that we become tired of fear. It is time to say that fear is no longer an acceptable practice to move forward together as sisters and brothers. Muslims are not only a part of our community, but integral to understanding what it truly means to be human with each other. We reject the idea that power, security, fear, anxiety or any fashionable political sentiment of the moment trumps our responsibility to love our neighbor as ourselves.

I always get hope when I read the words that George Washington wrote to the Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island. “…[E]very one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid…For happily the government of the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance…” That is the least we can ask of elected officials. All of our guarenteed religious freedoms depend on it.

Yet, we are not going to leave our expectations for a beloved community with elected officials alone. We will make sure that love overcomes even the most cynical political posturing to bring about Peace and Justice.

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