By R. Kevin Johnson
I passed a Muslim woman on the street wearing a hijab. She walked quickly with her head down. She acted like she didn’t want to be noticed. She looked scared.
Perhaps her fear is justified given the harmful rhetoric and disgraceful acts aimed at “the other” this season — especially in the wake of events in Beirut and Paris and San Bernardino. Even New Yorkers like this woman and me, living in one of the most progressive and diverse cities in the world — myriad cultures, races, and religions represented — are not exempt from these xenophobic acts. The local news is filled with examples of crimes against those perceived as different because of how they dress, where they live, or the color of their skin.
Last week a man launched an attack on a Muslim-owned business in midtown Manhattan, vandalizing the property and physically assaulting a worker. Routinely, Sikhs wearing dastaars are called names I won’t repeat in this forum. Closer to home, my colleague, an Orthodox Jewish rabbi, was confronted on the street with taunts and jeers. A few blocks away, someone hurled a racial slur at my wife, an Asian-American business professional, before scurrying down the street to the safety of a locked business.
Leaders using careless words are emboldening others. The result is a self-perpetuating movement toward discord and strife and injustice. Unfortunately, the most vulnerable tend to be the ones who are impacted when people act out in fear because fear causes us to see others through a lens of pride and distrust.
Christians are called to a better way of living out these days of turmoil, to a better way of service to others. The perfect love magnified in the person and work of Christ casts out fear, causes us to have compassion for others and restores hope (1 John 4:18-21). It allows us to think and feel beyond logical understanding. It helps us to see others as Christ sees us — through the lens of love.
I smiled at the Muslim woman on the street and said, “Good morning. I hope you’re doing well today.” She looked surprised. Then smiled back and replied, “Good morning. Yes. Thank you.”
I’d like to believe that her response was obligatory. But I’m guessing, in that moment, what she felt was relief.
I’m praying for grace to stand on guard against the things that render me reactionary when I feel afraid. I’m also pondering the perfect love of Christ as I light our Advent wreath this week.