We craft this message on the day that iconic civil rights leader John Lewis was laid to rest. He penned a kind of ethical will — a powerful statement of his moral legacy. Lewis linked his life’s work fighting for racial justice to his sense of pride and hope in experiencing renewed efforts for his cause:
“You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society. Millions of people motivated simply by human compassion laid down the burdens of division. Around the country and the world you set aside race, class, age, language and nationality to demand respect for human dignity.”
We, too, have been inspired by the rise of righteous waters — activism that has filled our streets with protests encompassing the broadest range of citizenry in our nation’s history. Even in the midst of a surging pandemic and the economic devastation it has wrought, millions raised their voices and brought forth their bodies to confront violence against communities of color at the hands of law enforcement. We are blessed to join our hands, our hearts, and our souls in this sacred task.
We are greatly moved by the passion and determination of protesters in their unprecedented pursuit of vital change. And though there are many paths of repair and reconciliation to effectively address the structural racism that remains the Original Sin of our nation, we believe that only the concerted will of our nation, united and indivisible, can bind its festering wounds.
But some acts, emerging even from passionate indignation, cross the line from constitutionally-enshrined rights to coarse intimidation, vile messaging and hate speech. Some of our Seattle civic leaders, including the mayor, police chief and council members, endure a nightly assault on their homes and their families for no other reason save that their approach to change has been deemed insufficient in the eyes of a zealous few. That two of these leaders are women and members of historically oppressed communities further deepens this victimization. We deplore these acts of wanton abuse, and fear, as history teaches, that such behavior, if left unchecked, will inevitably lead to violence, tragedy, and a vicious cycle of hate and recrimination. We ask that other leaders, and all people of undaunted hope and good conscience, condemn these assaults, and recommit to a soulful activism that raises the human spirit and renews a common vision. As a community and a nation, we must balance the fervor of our cause with the wisdom, determination and skill at bringing it to fruition.
Lewis sealed his legacy with these final words:
“Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.“
May this message of faith, hope and love compel us to rise to the ramparts of the fight for justice and right, constrain our lesser fears and contempt for the other, and pursue a lasting peace that is the highest calling of the better angels of our nature.
In solidarity with this Op-Ed: Reverend Dr. Carey G. Anderson, Rabbi Dana Benson, Rabbi Will Berkowitz, Rabbi Dan Bridge, Archbishop Paul Etienne, Father William Heric, Rabbi Jason Levine, Reverend Dr. Carl Livingston, Father Paul Magnano, Father Maurice Mamba, Bishop Daniel Mueggenborg, Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum, Father Michael G. Ryan, Rabbi Callie Schulman, President Stephen Sundborg, S.J., The Very Reverend Steven L. Thomason, Bishop Garry L. Tyson, Rabbi Daniel A. Weiner, Rabbi Ruth A. Zlotnik.