Changing the climate that's feeding hate crime

This is an archived article that was published on in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

An elderly white supremacist opens fire at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., killing a security guard because "Obama does what his Jew owners tell him to do."

Dr. George Tiller is shot dead by an anti-abortion extremist while ushering at his Lutheran church in Wichita, Kan.

In Knoxville, Tenn., two church-goers are killed and seven others are wounded by a gunman who opens fire during a youth performance of "Annie" at a Unitarian Universalist church. His motive: to kill "liberalisms' foot soldiers [sic]."

Blocks away from the Holocaust Museum, members of Congress work to pass comprehensive hate crimes legislation -- crimes intended to hurt not only individuals but others who share key identities with them. The FBI estimates there are 7,500 hate crimes a year -- nearly one new victim every hour of every day. Equally concerning is the marked rise in hate crimes directed at Hispanics and those "perceived to be immigrants."

It is clear our nation is suffering through an epidemic of violent hate crimes. Our response to these heinous acts must not only be legislative or political, but personal as well. Unitarian Universalists choose to stand on the side of love, in solidarity with those who are targeted with violence, oppression and exclusion based on identity.

This week in Salt Lake City one of the two of us will be elected the new president of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Regardless of who is elected, our community recommits itself to promoting the inherent worth and dignity of all people -- including those with whom we disagree strongly. We will confront violence, oppression and exclusion based on identity.

We are not naïve. We understand the depths to which identity is ingrained in the human experience. We know speech aimed at provoking violence and oppression is pervasive. Words have consequences.

We cannot allow this cancer to go unchallenged. To remain silent is to be complicit in the destruction of our society. We cannot ignore hate crimes against anyone based on race, religion, national origin, gender, age, sexual orientation and disability.

The Leadership Council on Civil Rights just released a report on hate crimes, noting with alarm the rising statistics and urging religious leaders and others to confront violent bigotry with civil discourse. We pledge to do our part.

We must also respond by standing up for each other by challenging the agents of intolerance. We may not change minds right away, but we can ensure the voices of compassion are strong in the public square. If we speak about what binds us together as people, the result will be an understanding that humans are dependent upon each other for our common good.

We must be vigilant about intolerance in the media. We must be equally aware of its intrusion in workplaces, neighborhoods and in conversations with relatives and friends.

When Universalist congregations gathered together for the first time in 1803, they stood against slavery because they knew that no loving God would create people in order to enslave them. Similarly, we know today that our faith is best expressed by how much we love all people.

We must learn to air our disagreements with respect, humility and reason. The alternative is more pain and heartbreak, and the sorrowful recognition that we have left our children a world even more intolerant than the one we inherited. We cannot allow that to be our legacy.

Rev. Laurel Hallman and Rev. Peter Morales are the two candidates for President of the Unitarian Universalist Association. The election is being held next week at their General Assembly in Salt Lake City.