Pastor Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas boasts of having held 43,660 peaceful demonstrations. This weekend he is staging a protest against Jews, gays, lesbians and Mexicans. We need to be unselfish to serve our selfish interests. Here is an opportunity for you to stand up for the rights of others and perhaps find a purpose in life to stand up for the rights of others.
Why should you stand up for others?
You may find answers in the following lines inspired by Martin Niemoller's eternal poem about co-existence:
First they expressed their hate for Jews,
it did not bother me because I am not a Jew;
Then they condemn Gays & Lesbians,
it did not bother me because I am not a Gay;
Then they deny the divinity of Catholicism,
it did not bother me because I am not a Catholic;
Then they want to look down upon Mexicans,
it did not bother me because I am not a Mexican;
Finally, they want to harass me the new immigrant,
It does bother me, that there is no one left to speak for me.
One of the most beautiful things that religions teach us is living for the sake of others. Seriously, when we are concerned about ourselves, and when we become utterly selfish and care about ourselves in the moments of our strength, then what happens to us in our vulnerable moments?
Religions help us sustain peace and balance in society in the times of our spiritual, physical and societal ups and downs. Living for the sake of others is not a charity or even a noble thing to brag about; it is indeed the pragmatic thing to do.
Jesus taught us how to co-exist in peace by removing prejudices and embracing every person that God has created -- not just the ones who act, eat and look like us, but those whom society has neglected. He embraced the then-socially-rejected prostitutes and lepers. Was that the limit of his compassion?
We hope the ministries of Westboro Baptist Church will seriously consider the role of Jesus in creating a world of love and peace. I request that they ponder the following questions:
- What would Jesus do if he ran into a HIV-infected person? Would he condemn him or bless him?
- What would Jesus do if he had a line-up of prostitutes, lepers, pious pastors, ordinary people, gays and lesbians, Mexicans and immigrants? Would he hug them or curse them?
- Should we reduce Jesus to a partisan fellow who takes sides?
- Would Jesus agree if God were to sign a deal behind others' backs?
One of the gifts of Jesus was his helping us create the kingdom of heaven on earth, where every one of God's creations lives in peace and love, without fear, and in unison with the cosmic universe. Can we follow Jesus and remove the fears and bring peace to all? Didn't he say, "A new commandment I give you -- Love one another as I have loved you so that all men may know you are my disciples" (John 13:34-35)? Are we to be known for our love and compassion, or for our hostility?
Didn't Jesus have the power to change the world by merely saying the word? Why did he not? Did he want to test us to see if we will follow him? Are we going to follow the path of compassion and forgiveness that he chose, or are we going to act out of fear and hatred for others?
Please show your solidarity by standing with the ones who need it now. Let there not be any hate for the men, women and children of the Westboro Baptist Church. We can always overcome ignorance with love and kindness, just as Jesus did.
As a Muslim, I am standing up for the rights of every human being; it is not against the individuals but against the ignorance. As a Muslim I have stood up for atheists, Baha'is, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Jews, Natives, Sikhs, Zoroastrians and many others in between.
I hope to meet the Jewish man whom I met at the Gaza Rally in downtown Dallas in December 2008. I was with the banner of the Dallas Peace Center and saw a Jewish teen taking pictures before getting into a heated discussion with a Palestinian. A police officer stepped in and told the teen to get out of there; I walked up to the officer and defended his right to be there as anyone else. The officer told me not to interfere, while I asserted that I would stand up with the teen. Then he told me that he would arrest me, and I was ready for it, but the Jewish teen went to the other side, and I followed him with my camera until he left behind the screen wall.
Unless we learn to stand up for the rights of others, we cannot claim to be just, and we have no right to expect others to stand up for us.
The folks form the Westboro Baptist Church are holding demonstrations at various places in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. A few of them are the Dallas Holocaust Museum, the Cathedral of Guadalupe, the Jewish Community Center, the Chabad of Dallas and several other places including Arlington. The complete list can be viewed here. I will be there at the Holocaust Museum and hopefully other places. Please join me for a prayer of peace and a prayer of co-existence. We have to live together; we might as well live with harmony and cohesion.