In times of disagreement and conflict, we are quick to discount our commonality. However, if we can step back and move away from the automatic rebuke or response to those who push our buttons, we can spot a common thread that connects us: our humanity.
Recently, I had a poignant reminder of how we are held together by our common humanity and the power of love. This month, our community learned that Westboro Baptist Church, an extremist group known for hate-filled protests against homosexuality and at funerals of soldiers killed in combat, was coming to town to stage a protest at Olympia High School.
Student leaders and school staff met to discuss how they would respond. What came out of that process was a decision not to stage a counter-protest, but to organize a student rally to affirm their belief in acceptance and inclusiveness.
By 6 a.m. the day of the rally, students, parents and community members began gathering in front of Olympia High School. By 7 a.m., the crowd had swelled to 1,000. Standing in the rain, we heard students’ heartfelt messages of tolerance and unity.
They acknowledged their school was not free of prejudice, judgment, even bullying. But they were united in their commitment to overcome barriers to unity as they continue to build a strong, diverse community. Several expressed their belief that we must all counter hate by standing together in a spirit of love that transcends our differences.
The rally was an amazing, positive experience. Rather than being a protest against a marginalized hate group, it was a gathering for the students and the school, and their message of acceptance. That morning, an Olympia High School student observed, “This event is not directed at them at all. It’s not to engage them. It’s about us.”
As a student band played, everyone joined in singing the Beatles’ “All You Need is Love,” Yes, I thought, all we need is love – love that brings us together to stand in the rain with our amazing high school students.
Love for the students who planned and spoke at the rally, love for acceptance and inclusion. Love that compels us to stand up for justice in our community.
Later that day, a friend observed, “Our unwanted visitors from Westboro actually brought us together – I’m sure they didn’t anticipate that!”
We came together – students, parents, neighbors, clergy and members of many faith communities. We might not think alike on social and political issues that we face in our world, but we do share a commitment to caring for our neighbors and each other.
We need not think alike to love alike.
These words are attributed to Francis David, the court preacher to King John Sigismund of Transylvania, who ruled in the 1500s. Influenced by David’s teachings, King John converted to Unitarianism and was inspired to proclaim the world’s first religious tolerance mandate, the Edict of Torda.
We need not think alike to love alike. Francis David’s words live on, reminding us that, no matter how much we disagree, we are held together in our common humanity by the power of love.
Standing in the crowd in a high school parking lot on a very rainy morning at a rally planned by our students was a powerful reminder that we are indeed one community. A reminder that the teaching of a medieval Transylvanian preacher remains true today.
Sometimes such reminders come in unexpected ways.The Rev. Carol McKinley serves as coordinator of Washington Unitarian Universalist Voices for Justice. She is an affiliated community minister with the Olympia UU Congregation. Perspective is coordinated by Interfaith Works in cooperation with The Olympian. The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Interfaith Works or The Olympian.