On Countering Nativism…
Interfaith work is meeting some strong head winds these days.
The United States is experiencing an outbreak of sharp toned and dangerous Nativism.
Nativism is essentially a fear of immigrants. We saw it in the 1850s when the secretive American Party formed to oppose Irish Catholics who had recently fled famine in Ireland. Then, in the 1880s, there was the hateful opposition to the Chinese who had been encouraged to come to America to build the railroads. There followed other immigrant exclusion acts of the 1920s that cut immigration to a trickle – even from Europe.
It took a generation before the egalitarian movements of the 1960’s re-opened our country and a marvelous thing happened. Thousands of people from the Middle East, Asia and South Asia, among other places, decided to entrust their futures to America and contribute to the vibrant community we have today. These people brought their religious identities with them. Korean Christians, Sunni and Shi’a Muslims, Chaldean Christians, Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and others added their dynamic religious cultures to our already considerable mix of religions.
However, sadly today, some of the grandchildren and great grandchildren of those Europeans that immigrated in the early 20th century have forgotten their roots and want to pull up the drawbridge. These 21st century Nativists are scapegoating immigrants and their religions – especially Muslims and Hispanic peoples – for the anxieties they feel about the future of America.
The truth is the opposite. Nativism, alongside America’s persistent racism, tear at the soul of America. They divert our collective energy away from addressing issues like the need for jobs and how to deal with the effects of automation. Studies consistently show that the net contribution of immigrants is vast and positive. Sadly this information is willfully ignored in favor of demagoguery and short-term political gains.
The InterFaith Leadership Council is facing up to those strong headwinds. We have had to double our effort to connect people of goodwill so we can build friendships and work together. In the near term we speak out against bigotry. The IFLC provides a constant voice for civil discourse. And for the long run we are educating young people and adults alike to be comfortable with the future that we cannot avoid.
This year alone, our Religious Diversity Journeys program immersed 700 middle school students, 200 of their parents and 50 social studies teachers in Synagogues, Mosques, Gurdwaras, Temples and Churches where they could learn first hand the values these religious groups espouse.
The work is extremely gratifying but it does take thousands of hours of volunteer effort to make it work. We need your help. We have to link arms, be resilient and meet these headwinds together. We at IFLC encourage you to join us. Sign up for our weekly newsletters and come join us at one of our informal gatherings that happen throughout the year. We look forward to working together with you.