Last Sunday, a group of about 150 pastors, churches and organizations published a signed, two-page advertisement in the Tribune-Herald laying out a brand of Christianity that, they assert, is the only hope for a thriving Waco today and in the future. This declaration used a highly exclusive and divisive “We.” Each point in the ad began with “WE BELIEVE,” and while the assumption of the writers appeared to be that all Wacoans believe in those same things, I assure them that many in Waco disagree with not just one or two of their points but every single one.
The signers of Sunday’s ad seem to live within a different reality from that of many others, who thrive not despite Waco’s growing diversity of people and beliefs but because of it. Here are some things we believe.
We believe Waco’s citizens embody the virtues of hospitality, vitality and diversity. We are fifth-generation Texans and first-generation émigrés from around the world. We are rocket scientists and stay-at-home parents, blue-collar workers and college professors, pastors and rabbis and imams and spiritual leaders, athletes and mathletes and everything in between. We love Waco’s distinct blend of people and ideas, and we welcome those who share Waco’s values, such as inclusion, compassion and respect; the desire to be good stewards of our beautiful city and earth; and the will to be compassionate and civil neighbors to one another.
We believe Waco has room for us all, regardless of age, race, national origin, faith or lack of faith, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability or other differences which could divide us but which, instead, strengthen our ability to live, love and learn from one another. We celebrate Waco’s diversity.
We believe we can “be as a lamp unto them that walk in darkness, a joy to the sorrowful, a sea for the thirsty, a haven for the distressed, an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression.” — Gleanings from the writings of Bahá’u’lláh, Baha’i faith
We believe we must “radiate boundless love toward the entire world, above, below and across, unhindered, without ill will, without enmity.” — The Buddha, Buddhist philosophy
We believe our hope lies in the evidence of God’s spirit: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” — Galatians 5:22-23, Christian scripture
We believe “those who love all intensely begin perceiving in all living beings a part of themselves. They become a lover of all, a part and parcel of the Universal Joy.” — Yajur Veda, Hindu holy writings
We believe in “a philosophy of joyous service for the greater good of all humanity.” — Linus Pauling, Nobel Prize-winning scientist, Humanist thinker
We believe “God orders justice, kindness and good conduct. God forbids injustice, immorality and oppression.” — Quran 16:90 (Surah an-Nahl), Muslim scripture
We believe we must “treat all living beings with equanimity and none with enmity.” — The Lord Mahavira, Jain tirthankara
We believe “the love of God’s creatures must include all humankind, regardless of religion and race.” — Rav Avraham Yitzchak Cook, Middot (19th century), Jewish teacher
We believe “in the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and in a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” — Our First and Fourth Principles, Unitarian Universalist faith
We believe “the spirit of God lives in each person; therefore, all people are inherently good.” — Our Second Basic Principle, Unity ministry
You may disagree with some of the above. But the danger of a diverse community is focusing on difference and disagreement till we no longer see one another as human: fragile and powerful, longing for comfort and vulnerable to heartbreak, seeking truth and dreaming of wholeness.
The power of diversity is much more compelling: It comes when we choose to see beyond those differences, engaging one another instead in the tough and necessary work of making the world a more just and loving place for all of us, with space for difference and individual autonomy.
When we read the holy words above, we can choose to follow a fear-fueled urge to divide and despise that which we don’t understand. Or we can choose to set that aside and instead embrace a different urge, one which has compelled humans to create art, music, writing, religion, science and much more: the human urge to love our neighbors as ourselves, to learn from one another and create communities which have room for us all.
Kris Cervantes is pastor of Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Waco. Written with special thanks to Pastor Charley Garrison, Central Texas Metropolitan Community Church; Rabbi Laura Harari, Temple Rodef Sholom; and Pastor Scott Spence, St. John United Church of Christ.