On Tuesday, November 8, Senator David Williams of Kentucky lost his bid to become Governor of Kentucky, and it’s a good thing, if for no other reason the intolerance showed by him toward anyone not like himself. His hateful comments about incumbent Governor Beshear attending a Hindu blessing ceremony celebrating the opening of a new business in Hardin County have shown Kentuckians of all political and religious miens what sort of man he is, stooping to the worst type of demagoguery in a desperate attempt to glean a few more votes from folks who might consciously or unconsciously be threatened that many Kentuckians may hold different religious beliefs and observe different rituals than they. Regardless of one’s political leanings, I would hope that all Kentuckians would reject such prejudice in themselves and in our potential leaders. Williams’ reference to the Hindu ceremony celebrating the opening of a new company in Kentucky, a company bringing much-needed jobs to our Commonwealth, as “idolatry” is, let us be frank, lowly race-baiting. Politics may not be the last refuge of the scoundrel, but scapegoating is. One doesn’t have to be a student of history to know where such behaviors lead. Perhaps I’m overly sensitive, you might say, but I’m Jewish, and I can read: it was only 78 years ago that a tyrant came to power in middle Europe based upon a political foundation of giving comfort to his beleaguered post-war constituency by encouraging them to blame the Jewish people for all their woes. Just five short years later, Kristallnacht, the Night of the Broken Glass, was perpetrated upon the Jewish people, and the concerted killing began with little resistance from a malleable public to meek to speak up.
David Williams’ public comments bring to light a major disappointment of my adult life, the realization that intelligence and education do not always equate with wisdom. Mr Williams is not a stupid man, educated as he was at the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville. Stupid, no: he knew exactly what he was saying, and in the past in a less diverse and less-enlightened Kentucky, his utterances may have gleaned more traction, but the majority of Kentuckians see through such Machiavellian attempts to wrest a few more votes just prior to Election Day.
Another disappointment, and not a new one, is the relative silence of my brothers and sisters of faith in the Christian world, the dominant paradigm, if you will, the vast majority of the population of my beloved Kentucky. Yes, I know that Christianity is not a homogenous faith, that its adherents inhabit a political and theological spectrum. Some, a brave few, have spoken up, but where is the collective voice of all branches of that majority community in taking Mr Williams to task? Where is the “love your neighbor as yourself?” I, for one, have yet to feel the collective love.
Look around you. Your neighbors are Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, agnostic, atheist. They are moms, dads, brothers, sisters, friends, and lovers. We all have a stake in calling people out when they scapegoat a certain people: to paraphrase the poet Naomi Shihab Nye, you must see how this could be you. All of us must see the other as we see ourselves; all of us must acknowledge whatever variation of the Golden Rule our faiths, or perhaps just our adult caregivers or teachers inculcated within us. Let us move beyond “tolerance,” a word I abhor in the context of this discussion, what with its connotation of forbearance and “putting up with” someone different; rather, let’s learn to celebrate the leavening of our society brought to us grace of those different from us.
We need leaders for our state, not petty bullies. In the autumn 2011 issue of Pharos, the magazine of the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society, Dr Richard Byyny lists nine attributes needed in servant leaders: listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, and, last but not least at all, humility. Mr Williams’ behavior shows that he lacks all of these necessary characteristics. We have many challenges in our beloved Commonwealth these days: poverty, job loss, lack of educational opportunity, poor health due to obesity and smoking, a brain drain of young persons leaving the state for opportunities elsewhere. Ah, that last challenge. I often hope many of my young students will stay in Kentucky or come back to contribute to bettering our common weal, and yet, when confronted by such ignorance as manifested by the President of the Senate, no less, a candidate for highest public office in the state, how does one do “damage control” after that? How do we model for those who will come, contribute, and lead after us, who will attempt to make our state live up to its human potential?
One way is for people of faith to send a message as was sent to Mr Williams on Election Day 2011 and send him packing. All people of faith need to speak up, even if their voice shakes, when a petty bully co-opts their faith or terminology of it in order to scapegoat and foster an atmosphere of fear and mistrust. That is not what any of our faith streams is about.
Such wisdom exercised by the Kentucky electorate has telegraphed to our younger citizens that mean-spirited, bigoted tyrants will be shown the door and that Kentucky is a place that all, regardless of religion or lack thereof, can truly call home. Let’s keep that message going.