Dear Burlington Community Members
I am writing to you as the Episcopal priest in Burlington, where I serve at St. Mark’s, and as an active member of our town’s interfaith clergy association. In my tradition, as in many Christian churches, the sacrament of Baptism is one of the most powerful rites we have. During the ritual, those being baptized, or having a child baptized, make several promises. Obviously, most have to do with distinctly religious beliefs about God and Jesus, but the last promise is actually one that I think everyone can sign onto: “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”
The response? “I will, with God’s help.”
In recent weeks, I have heard stories in Burlington of people’s dignity not being respected. I have heard about heterosexual parents telling their children that they can’t play with friends who have same-sex parents. I’ve also heard of parents who don’t allow their children to play with friends of a different race or ethnicity. In a world where there is already so much division and strife, it saddens me to know that more walls are going up in our community to divide. It’s even sadder to know that adults are putting up those walls between their children.
While I think that hatred and bigotry are real factors in our society today, I suspect that fear is, more often than not, what’s behind these walls. When we don’t understand someone or something, it’s easy to grow afraid. Out of that fear there comes prejudice and a desire to keep apart from those who are different. Familiarity feels safe. But sticking only to who and what’s familiar is actually very dangerous in society. not to mention just plain boring.
Our children deserve better. They deserve the opportunity to live in a world without walls, where they can be free to meet friends and neighbors who are different from them and their families. They are our only hope for a less divisive and more compassionate future, one where racism, homophobia, and other forms of oppression have become things of the past.
If fear has put up these walls in our homes and neighborhoods, then love, made real through acts of kindness and acceptance, is the only power that can tear them down, and those acts begin with how we guide our children towards becoming people who strive for justice and peace, and who respect the dignity of every human being.
Rev. Dan Bell
St. Mark’s, Burlington