Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A Prayer for Affirming Our Values

[Note:  I was also privileged to offer the opening prayer at yesterday's demonstration at the Annapolis State House on Syrian refugees.  This is that text…]

A Prayer for Affirming Our Values
By Rabbi Stephen J. Weisman

Heavenly Parent – we who gather here today call upon you by many  names.  But we know that, despite those different names, we are all calling upon You – the One God – Creator, Protector, and Nurturer of all humanity.

We gather here today, on the eve of our national day of Thanksgiving, because we recognize that You have graced us with many blessings, for which we owe You bountiful thanks.  But we also recognize that mere words of thanks are not enough, when there are so many in our world in need of Your Healing, Your Protection, Your Love. 

We recognize that we must also show our thanks through our deeds – defending the values which connect us to You and to each other, extending Your Healing, Your Protection, Your Love to those who are not as blessed as we are.  We acknowledge that we are a nation of immigrants, that many of our greatest blessings come from being able to enjoy the bounty and live by the values we share in freedom in this great nation, exactly because we, or our ancestors were welcomed to become part of this people.  Many of our ancestors came here with little, many fled from persecution and violence, many came in challenging moments of world unrest. 

An so we pray, for ourselves and our elected leaders – that we learn and remember the lessons of our own individual and collective histories, that challenging moments call not for retreat from our core values, but rededication to those values.  Moral leadership is judged in difficult times like these, and how we respond to real human challenges Bless us,  O God, and bless our Governor as well, with Your strength, for it is our responsibility to come together, in Your name, and speak of and protect the values that make our country great.

Bless all who recognize Your gifts and Your blessings, all those who merely seek a safe and welcoming place to re-establish their lives and create their new homes, all who use Your gifts to work to improve the lives of ALL Your Creation – today and always.  We ask this in Your name – whichever one(s) we use.  Amen.
Remarks at the Governor’s Mansion – November 23, 2015
Rabbi Stephen J. Weisman

[Note:  The following is the complete prepared text from which I spoke at the Annapolis State House, at a rally organized by Faith in Public Life, to protest Governor Hogan’s politically motivated grandstanding, fear-mongering, and victim blaming [MY words here] on the issue of welcoming Syrian refugees.  The material in parentheses was not spoken publically.  And, if you are reading this, you probably know that my revulsion at his lack of leadership on this issue goes far beyond what I diplomatically shared in public when I spoke, or even what I have written here. ]

Thank you to my clergy colleagues for standing with us today on this moral issue.  Thank you to the folks at Faith in Public Life for starting the petition process and organizing this event here today, one of four such events across the country on this issue today.  And thank you to the members of the media who have gathered here with us -- written copies of these remarks will be available at the conclusion of the event.

We are here today because, as clergy leaders serving communities in Maryland, we believe that we can, we MUST, keep our country safe without forsaking the shared values that have made our nation great.  Turning our backs on refugees who felt trapped between ISIS and the Syrian government, endangered by the continuing conflict that is destroying their country, so that they felt it necessary to flee the carnage, is morally wrong.  It is a denial of the American way.  We reject the false and forced choice between compassionate openness and personal security.

(We, gathered here today, recognize that humanity continues to face the urgent challenge of finding appropriate responses to two related issues:

The necessary response of strength and resolve in the face of the continuing scourge of terrorism, and those who wish to scare us into changing how we live our lives and value the lives of others;

And the equally compelling response of support, understanding, and compassion toward those who have been uprooted from their homes, and have now made the incredibly difficult decision that starting over in a new land is in their best way forward.

The techniques of terror are rooted in fomenting fear – physical fear in those who are directly in the line of fire; emotional fear in others that we might be next.  Because fear is a powerful motivator of our responses.)

I, and we, understand why many fear the possibility that terrorists will attempt to infiltrate our country.  We are neither blind nor deaf to the potential danger of terror in our own country.  Indeed, we remember all too well the pain and loss we ourselves felt not so long ago.  We, too, want to do all we reasonably can to protect ourselves, our families, our congregations, and our communities.  But we believe that our best protection starts by reinforcing our core values, not by turning our backs on them, even temporarily.

36 times – 36 times – the Hebrew Bible, what others call the Old Testament, commands us to care for the strangers, “Because we know what it is like to be strangers, having ourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.”  The moral voice of the Book of Leviticus commands us “to love your neighbor as yourself.”

We recognize that the refugees, like the dead and wounded in Paris, are also VICTIMS of the terrorists, not terrorists themselves, and therefore we see opening our borders to them as part of the solution to terror, and not as part of the problem;

we recognize that giving into the fear, and changing our behavior in ways that are inconsistent with our core values as a people, gives another victory to the terrorists, encourages and emboldens them to new acts of outrage;

we recognize that no vetting process is perfect or can guarantee to prevent a terrorist from slipping into the country and doing damage… however, we also recognize that Syrian refugees are already vetted far more carefully than any other foreigners seeking entry to the US, and therefore we come to a different conclusion than our Governor, namely that losing our moral compass is a bigger threat to America than terrorist infiltration in the midst of the refugees given the current processes;

we sadly understand that this has become a political issue in which we, as religious leaders, would prefer NOT to get involved.  We would prefer to remain focused on the moral call of our faith traditions, encouraging policies and actions based in our shared core American values;

as Americans, we place the highest value on saving lives, on lifting up those who are fallen or held down, on making sure that all can feel safe and at peace within their own homes, part of a community that loves and respects them for who they are.  As the words of welcome engraved on the Statue of Liberty, which greeted my ancestors who fled to these shores after the Kishinev pogroms of Eastern Europe at the start of the last century, still invite - “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”  And they do so with no limitation to certain people, no prior restraint based on any religious or cultural litmus test.

And therefore, we stand here today at the Governor’s mansion, representing more than 2150 of our fellow clergy members nationwide, some 100 of our fellow clergy across this great state of Maryland, to declare that we are prepared to open our doors and welcome these Syrian refugees to our communities, with faith that existing procedures for accepting refugees will protect our safety.  And we invite our Governor, now fully restored to his usual physical strength, to stop the political rhetoric, and use his strength to join us in a welcome that embraces our shared core values, and brings us together in common cause.