Inauguration Day Comments from the Interfaith Prayer Service

My reflections on unity and justice from this morning’s Standing with Our Neighbor interfaith prayer service are posted below. Now that I’ve heard Trump’s speech, I would amend my comments from this morning to add that true unity is rooted in justice, not allegiance.

I’m grateful to each of you for your presence here today, and the desire for unity expressed by your presence. Thanks also to the NAACP and Faith Voices.

In times like these, a commitment to unity may seem overly naive or idealistic. Part of this is because, a lot of times, we understand politics to be a zero sum game, with clear winners and clear losers. When it comes to political contests, winning and losing can carry the euphoria of victory, or the agony of defeat. In some ways it’s like the spectacle of a sporting event, when fans live or die with each play of the game, but with much more intensity, because of very real life implications.

​When it comes to elections, there are times when I’ve felt like a winner, and there are times when I’ve felt like a loser. I will say that as someone who believes in equal rights, economic dignity and race equity, this last election cycle has made me worry about the rhetoric—about the way we treat one another—in this nation.

For if we truly seek unity, then we have a responsibility to never normalize the disparaging treatment of anyone, including but not limited to women, the poor, immigrants, Muslims, people of color, or people in the LGBTQ community. This is not a partisan issue; this is a human issue. Unity never takes as its starting point a fundamental disrespect of the other. Indeed, to normalize a fundamental disrespect of other human beings is precisely what precludes unity.

Even if we are nice to one another in interpersonal exchanges, that’s all well and good, yet if we are nice to one another in interpersonal exchanges yet all the while support governing policies that do immeasurable harm to one other, then, fundamentally, we are still disrespecting one another.

If we are serious about unity, then we must also be serious about fairness and dignity and equality, justice and respect and compassion. True unity is only possible when everyone has an equal place at the table –> otherwise it’s just hollow, cheap, superficial rhetoric that masks hidden power structures in society that privilege some (the dominant group) at the expense of others.

And no matter which political party we may or may not identify with, no matter what our religious tradition may or may not be — If we live in a world with political winners and losers, let us be sure of one thing: we are in this boat together. We may love the euphoria of winning, but if winning means throwing out principles of fairness and dignity and equality, justice and respect and compassion, if winning means throwing all of these things out, then, in the end, all of us lose. The pledge—the one we teach our children—is for liberty and justice…for all.

Thank you very much.

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