As election season politics plays out in Alaska Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz is urging Alaskans of all faiths to engage in civil dialogue and discourse when debating in the public square.
“Over the years, what falls in the bounds of being acceptable seems to be disintegrating,” Archbishop Schwietz said in a statement that was read at an Aug. 18 interfaith prayer service just outside St. Anthony Church in Anchorage.
Sponsored by the Anchorage Faith & Action Congregations Together (AFACT), the gathering was spurred by what organizers viewed as the use of negative and demeaning language in local election campaigns that stereotype people groups. More than 100 people attended the event, including leaders and pastors from several local religious congregations. Father Fred Bugarin read the statement by Archbishop Schwietz, who was unable to attend due to previous commitments.
The archbishop’s comments offered a challenge to raise the level of civil discourse, especially as the nation grapples with disagreements over immigration reform and struggles with how to respond to the protests and riots in Missouri over the police shooting of a young, unarmed black man.
“In the past, name calling and mean spirited comments were things witnessed on elementary school playgrounds by children who didn’t know better,” Archbishop Schwietz’s added. “Over the last week, we have witnessed the challenges in Ferguson, Missouri,” Archbishop Schwietz continued.
“Governor Nixon said in comments this weekend ‘… in those situations where folks are rolling up heavily armored and they’re pointing guns at folks, it’s impossible to have a dialogue.’ It’s unfortunate that in this little town things have disintegrated to the point of the National Guard keeping the peace.”
Archbishop Schwietz also addressed the “crisis of the children at our border,” recalling news reports in which “children showing up looking for refuge are sick, and Congressmen in Washington DC speculate that they are arriving with swine flu, dengue fever, tuberculosis and now the Ebola virus.”
“Comments such as these only contribute to the fear of the other and detract from the fact that each and every day, Jesus is walking across the border,” he said. “Those who fail to recognize him in the faces of the children have forgotten the verses in the 25th chapter of Matthew: ‘For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited me in. Lord, when did we see you a stranger and welcome you? Whatever you did for one of these least brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
Archbishop observed that as a society “we need to learn how to listen and how to dialogue with those who hold different views on everything from religion to politics. None of us are immune. Each and every one of us are called to be peacemakers, to work to help find solutions in often tenuous situations.”
Quoting a saying by Blessed Mother Theresa: “If you judge people, you have no time to love them,” Archbishop Schwietz urged attendees to “approach each day filled with love for our brothers and sisters, prepared to think about how our words and actions may be received. Then and only then will we enter a place where dialogue can happen, where hate will be diminished and where love can flourish.”