Only a small group of York County’s Christian pastors signed a letter last week to encourage their brethren to live in harmony with Muslims in the community. But we suspect the sentiments of the letter were shared by a large number of people of all faiths.
The letter is a response to concerns expressed by residents of Holy Islamville, a Muslim community in York County that has existed here for nearly three decades. Members of the local group say they fear for their safety after hearing about a failed plot to kill Muslims who live in a religious community in New York.
The FBI discovered the plan and arrested Robert Doggart, a failed congressional candidate from Tennessee, who pleaded guilty this month to hatching the plot. Doggart testified, according to court documents, that he had tried to recruit people from South Carolina to help him, and he had traveled to the state as recently as March.
We can understand why that might alarm the residents of Holy Islamville.
The letter signed by two dozen local pastors was designed to both reassure those residents and express opposition to any “acts of violence or threats of violence against anyone due to their religious affiliation.”
In addition to the pastors, York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant recently promised residents of Holy Islamville that his office will not tolerate any threats or acts of violence against them.
“The people who live at Islamville, and the people who gather at Islamville, they are citizens of America, this state and York County, and we will do everything we can to protect them as we would for any other resident of York County,” Bryant said last week.
We hope these messages resonate with all York County residents. As the pastors’ letter noted, discrimination or violence against people because of their religious affiliation is antithetical to the tenets of Christianity – as well as all other mainstream religions.
Those like Doggart, who would threaten the lives of people living in American Muslim communities, have stooped to the same level of immorality as members of Islamic State, who have committed any number of atrocities in the name of religion. By contrast, the best way to encourage moderation and peaceful coexistence among people of all faiths is to disavow violence and work to ensure the safety of everyone from threats by religious fanatics.
While only a relatively small number of pastors signed the letter last week, religious leaders throughout the county have other means and other opportunities to share the same message with members of their faith groups. And even those who don’t align themselves with any particular faith also can embrace the idea that tolerance, mutual understanding and goodwill help foster a healthier community.
Those who express the desire to live together peaceably are not naive. All we have to do is read the headlines to know that religious strife and intolerance have spawned horrific violence, destruction and cruelty around the globe.
The message of the local pastors was grounded in a faith whose foundation is peace and harmony. The message of the Islamic State and other extremists is a gross distortion of the religion to which they claim to adhere.
But despite the horrors occurring in the Middle East and the threats of domestic violence from those such as Doggart, the United States is fortunate – perhaps uniquely so – in being able to successfully sustain a religiously diverse society and to assimilate people of all faiths as part of its cultural norm. As Sheriff Bryant said, we’re all Americans.
That’s an idea worth spreading – and protecting at all costs.
Others York County religious leaders can help spread the message that violence against anyone due to religious affiliation is unacceptable.