Religion has been linked with hate and violence in recent news. First, when Omar Mateen declared his allegiance to the Islamic State before killing 49 people and wounding 53 at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla. And then, here in Sacramento, when a minister at Verity Baptist Church, Roger Jimenez, preached in favor of the killing. He said, “God has put a death penalty” on gays, and that Orlando was now a safer place.
It is frightening when individuals do and say horrific things in the name of organized religion. Human beings individually and in groups do evil things, in the name of political ideology, in the name of corporations and in the name of racial purity. Unfortunately, the capacity for evil is inherent in our very being.
But then so is goodness. Giving of oneself. Feeling joy when helping others. Being part of something bigger and better than yourself. All of this too, is part of us. And it is this goodness that I have seen over and over in the Sacramento religious community.
I accidentally became an organized religion expert. For the first anniversary of September 11, I impulsively rented out Memorial Auditorium to hold a Call for Unity interfaith music event. Then I started going to services to audition choirs.
Not only did I find phenomenal musical groups throughout the Sacramento religious community, but I also found Sacramento. Our town’s diversity and our cultural richness can be discovered at these diverse services. There is no admission charge. You just show up, and sit down and stand up, and then sit down again, for around an hour and a half. And I have continued to go to different religious services, even after we no longer produced our Call for Unity interfaith event. I have now been to over 150 different faith services around Sacramento.
This has given me a real appreciation for organized religion. While services are all different—different music, different religious texts, different preaching styles—the similarities are clearly more important. In all of the services I have attended, I have seen love. I have seen communities that protect and care for their children. I have seen respect for both young and old, and incredible generosity of both time and money.
This week, and every week, hundreds of thousands of Sacramento residents attended services, hearing a message that gave them strength and hope in their lives. And they gave generously, with money to support their faith group, but also to help the homeless, support young people, provide food and shelter for those in need here and throughout the world and to provide comfort for their members. But even more impressive than the money that was donated was the time donated every week to help those in need: to visit the sick, to comfort those who have lost a loved one, to counsel the troubled. The list is endless. It is what I have seen during my time sitting in the pews that has made me a believer. A believer in people coming together to help each other and to become better people.
That is what I see, when I think of organized religion. The many people coming together to do good, rather than the small minority who cause harm and preach evil.