On Saturday November 19, around 150 community members gathered at the Islamic Center of Bothell for an event called “Moving Forward Together.” The goal was to bring the community together for conversation in the wake of the divisiveness of the just-ended election cycle. People from many different faith backgrounds filled the gathering space and listened to neighbors share their experiences and seek ways to come together as a community. Ryan Welton, director for Interfaith and Outreach at the Islamic Center of Bothell, summed up the day saying, “I believe this is proof that we can all come together regardless of our religious or political beliefs to stand up for what is right and help build stronger and safer communities.”
As a Lutheran pastor, it was humbling to be in a room with many different faiths represented including those who identified as atheist or agnostic. No faith system has a monopoly on loving neighbors. It may be the one tenet that fosters agreement more than any other. And from my own understanding of faith, the Christian call to love our neighbor does not come with an “except for” at the end. Hearing so many voices with so many life experiences lifting up common expressions of compassion and justice gave me hope for unity beyond anything I have seen in the church recently.
Among the speakers was Arsalan Bukhari, Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) who urged participants to stay active in reporting any incidents of discrimination or harassment and to write letters to the Seattle Times about the positive impact of relationships with our Muslim neighbors. He also brought forward sobering statistics about the rise in hate crimes and incidents against Muslims in the last couple of years that reinforced the need for a community meeting like this one. A representative from the Bothell Police Department also spoke and encouraged vigilance and safety for all community members.
The tone of the gathering was encouraging and supportive. When one man disclosed that he had voted for Donald Trump and provided his thought process, people engaged him with civility that was rarely seen during the election. Others affirmed the belief that talking to neighbors with whom we disagree in an effort to promote understanding will be a critical part of the “moving forward” process. But the promise of the organizers to not be a political discussion was adhered to. There was little talk about politicians and worldviews and people commented mostly about their lived experiences.
I am grateful for the leaders in the community who organized this event and who are continuing to find ways to work for peace and justice on the local level. With the unrest of national politics still looming large, it is encouraging to see signs of hope in my own community. We are still a long way from realizing the dream of a community without hate or discrimination, but for a morning, all of us gathered were able to experience what that dream might look and sound like.