Left Justified: Standing up to intolerance

October 13, 2010

By Stanley Campbell

The radical Christian who wished to burn a holy book is protected by our Bill of Rights and freedom of speech.

But we are obligated to speak out against such provocations in the name of humanity and the loving God many of us profess to believe.

Such displays of public hatred against a holy faith may encourage more heinous crimes against people of that faith.

When I was hired as Rockford Urban Ministries’ director, one of our first public actions was in response to a physical attack on the local Buddhist Temple.

There are now four Buddhist Temples in Rockford, and the Rockford Interfaith Council has sponsored open houses with most. (The next Open Houses of Worship tour is Sunday, Oct. 24, beginning at 3 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 4848 Turner St., visiting the Vietnamese Temple and Sts. Peter & Paul.)

But in 1986, someone pumped four shots from a high-powered rifle into the Laotion Temple—and saffron-robed priests use that building as home.

They were literally under fire, and it was not the first time. Usually, after a patriotic holiday like the Fourth of July, these attacks came in the middle of the night.

A rudimentary pipe bomb was lobbed over the wall, but thank God, it only sputtered and flamed out. Because the monks spoke little English, their cries for help were ignored.

Upon hearing the story, I called for religious leaders to join in public prayer and welcome the Buddhists to Rockford. More than 20 pastors showed up to celebrate our freedom of religion and pray for the safety of the temple.

Gandhi advocated that we take nonviolent action when facing injustice. But he also knew how to work the media to educate the public.

So, the TV cameras were invited as we, a group of liberal Christians, the rabbi from Temple Beth-El, and representatives from the nascent Muslim community and the small Hindu Satsang, stood in front of their 20-foot-tall, gold-painted Buddhas and welcomed the orange-robed monks to Rockford.

Since then, no more attacks. Thank God, and the tolerant people of Rockford. Federal marshals also assisted in beefing up security. There’s now a liaison who translates calls for help.

And since then, the Rockford Interfaith Council has responded with prayers and money, and sometimes action, whenever any house of worship is attacked.

The Thanksgiving Ceremony (held at Rockford College’s Fisher Chapel the Sunday before) celebrates our diversity, and the open houses of worship invite you to see for yourselves the love and respect our neighbors of different faiths inspire.

Here’s the specifics: You are welcome to visit the Unitarian Universalist Church, 4848 Turner St., Rockford, from 3 to 3:45 p.m. The Rev. Mathew Johnson-Doyle will greet you and give a short talk with a tour of the church and its works.

Visitors will then have 15 minutes to drive to the Vietnamese Buddhist Temple at 518 15th Ave. The monks will speak and offer a tour from 4 to 4:45 p.m. The building has been remodeled into a beautiful Buddhist Temple. You will be hosted by a Buddhist monk, who will introduce you to the teachings of Buddha, the history of Buddhism and what it means to the Rockford community.

At 5 p.m., the visitors will gather at Sts. Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Church, corner of West and Lincoln streets in Rockford. The Church is a pillar in the Hispanic community. Roy Mayer, a member of the church, will then host the group, informing us of how it serves the needs of the community, plus a tour of the church.

We hope you can join us for this blessed event, Sunday, Oct. 24, sponsored by the Rockford Interfaith Council.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

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