“Some people are using the current political climate to justify anti-Semitic or Islamophobic beliefs or degrade human beings,” Vermont Episcopal Bishop Thomas Ely says. “That’s not acceptable, and religious people need to say that.”
To do so, Vermont Interfaith Action — a nonpartisan coalition of more than 40 spiritual communities encompassing 10,000 members from Brattleboro to Burlington — spoke out over the weekend through a “Sabbath of Listening and Healing.”
“The intention,” the coalition said in a statement, “is for our member congregations throughout Vermont to spend time in prayer and preaching at their worship services listening to the voices of the vulnerable in our midst, listening to the concerns for safety and inclusion, listening in a deep way beyond our normal political posturing and to initiate the actions of healing that will enable our congregations to continue to seek justice for their communities.”
Organizers began seeing problems last summer, when Democratic state Rep. Kiah Morris, of Bennington, one of a few black members of the Vermont Legislature, received several racially charged emails and tweets.
Then last fall, just after the presidential election, swastikas appeared at two Jewish congregations: Middlebury’s Havurah House and the University of Vermont’s Hillel center, where the symbol was spray-painted on a Donald Trump lawn sign.
And this winter, the Islamic Society of Vermont received a letter expressing intolerance for its faith.
“This letter can only be characterized as hate mail,” the coalition informed members in an email. “We find the sentiments expressed in this letter completely unacceptable.”
In response, the clergy group called for a “Sabbath of Listening and Healing” this weekend against “hate speech or actions directed toward any Vermonters on the basis of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political beliefs.”
“We know this can only begin if we first bear witness to one another’s pain and listen with love and respect,” the Rev. Joan Javier-Duval of the Unitarian Church of Montpelier said upon the event’s announcement.
The program began during Islamic prayers Friday, continued with Jewish Shabbat on Saturday and concluded with Christian services Sunday.
Each participating spiritual community observed the event in its own way, organizers said. The Jewish calendar called for the reading of Genesis and its story about the reconciliation of Joseph and his brothers, while Christian congregations were gathering just after Friday’s Feast of the Epiphany.
Ely spoke Sunday during services at Barre’s Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd.
“I’m sensing a loss of understanding that every human being is worthy,” the bishop summed up his remarks. “We can have differences, but we cannot violate the dignity of one another. To me, this Sabbath is a wonderful time for Christians, Jews and Muslims to be holding each other in prayer.”