View from the Pew
Religious leaders hope to clean up their act
In the mail this week was a church bulletin describing a recent seminar about "mindful communications." Motivational speaker Gwen Fujie, who gives workshops to community groups, fundraising agencies, government employees and corporate executives, talked to Project Dana volunteers about how to exchange ideas in a positive, harmonious manner.
It is touching that people involved in one of the most compassionate community programs in the state seek to avoid short-circuiting their good intentions by blurting out a thoughtless word. More than 700 Project Dana folks from 30 Buddhist and Christian churches spend hours caring for frail and homebound people, visiting them, shopping for them and taking them to appointments, a true case of actions speaking louder than words.
Their goal to exercise freedom of speech kindly is all the more impressive because it came in a week when the dark side of freedom of expression cast a brief shadow on Oahu. A hate group that identifies itself as a church demonstrated Sunday outside a few churches and military bases. The Rev. Fred Phelps wasn't with them, but a handful of people from his Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., used nasty signs and chants to express their message of hatred of homosexuals, the U.S. government because it provides freedom and justice for all, including gays, and churches who are welcoming to all.
The Westboro nasties aroused some discomfort among local church folks and a couple of counterdemonstrations that kept the police edgy but didn't escalate from words to deeds that would lead to arrests.
"We asked folks to be courteous, to say 'Hi,' to offer a cup of water," said the Rev. Curtis Kekuna, of Kawaiaha'o Church, one of the targets. "For us our perspective is to pray for them. We hope that someday they will see who God is: God is love."
What's alarming is that we aren't as shocked as we used to be by the vile language. Insult and expletive are common "creative" expression in the performing arts. They're in the blogs, the electronic version of graffiti, where anyone can express an anonymous opinion as virulent as it gets, even when he can't spell it.
It's part of our politics. And wouldn't you know, recently it's churchmen whose extremist expressions of racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, any old ism, have the politicians backing away lest they be splattered by what someone else spews.
"Mindful communication" was at the core of another event on the local religion scene. Israeli Rabbi David Forman, founder of Rabbis for Human Rights, riled some in his local audiences with his perspective of the Middle East conflict, a sample of which can be seen in his viewpoint in the Sunday Star-Bulletin editorial page. At least one member of a local pro-Palestinian group stalked out. Lots of others are blogging away to the theme, How dare he exercise freedom of speech when he doesn't agree with me?
The Interfaith Alliance of Hawaii hosted one of Forman's talks. The group decided not to respond to the Westboro gang, although others issued disclaimers, including the legitimate Baptist denominations and the mayor of Topeka.
Interfaith Alliance President John Heidel said the group's role "is to encourage people to listen to each other, to seek real solutions. That's what we try to make happen, for people to talk civilly to each other so there can be that healing. There has to be forgiveness at some point; you can't keep going over what happened in the past.
"As hard as it is, we have to listen ... get beyond the raw emotions, go beyond the symptoms," he said. "People say mean things when they're hurting. If you listen, you can identify why they are angry, hurting, afraid. Our role is to keep that kind of conversation going."
Mindful communication would "get beyond the rehash of history and who did what to whom and talk about the next move, the step forward," Heidel said. "It needs to get to reconciliation, what can each group give up in order to live together."
"It goes beyond tolerance. Tolerance doesn't go far enough; it's passive, putting up with something," Heidel said. "Deeper than that is acceptance and respect."
"You'd think people of all faiths would be the ones who would be the models for this."
It's got to start somewhere.