Bill Clarkson answers the question, “Why is the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto Important?”

Thoughts From Bill Clarkson, Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto steering committee member

I have been a life-long Episcopalian, baptized as a child, confirmed at age 12, and ordained priest in 1973. My entire career has largely been in education—teacher, coach, chaplain, administrator, and then Headmaster of two independent schools.

In the sacrament of Baptism (the Episcopal Book of Common prayer), deep and abiding promises are made, restated in Confirmation, and again in Ordination to the Priesthood. Two of the questions and responsive promises have always stood out for me:

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

Answer/Promise: I will with God’s help!

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

I will with God’s help.

My career position before retirement was in leading a large Christian school in the South, which over time had moved past a religiously restrictive hiring policy to welcoming persons of all faiths in whatever position they might have in the school. I had occasion one year to hire a wonderful and experienced Muslim woman to co-teach a second grade class. There was immediate resistance from the initial co-teacher (“I can’t work with a Muslim; I’m a Christian and this is a Christian school”), and from a few parents (Christian): “I don’t want my child in a classroom with a Muslim”). Immediately, another teacher stepped forward and said, “I would be honored to have her as a partner in the classroom.” From that point on, the Muslim teacher was loved and embraced by the community, her colleagues, and especially the children. It has remained so over many years.

Now in the heated atmosphere of growing religious bigotry and rising incidents of hate crimes toward Muslims in this country, a handwritten letter has been sent to numerous mosques around the country, a letter that has gone viral over the news and social media. The text is as follows:

“To the children of Satan,

You Muslims are a vile and filthy people. Your mothers are whores and your fathers are dogs. You are evil. You worship the devil. But your day of reckoning has arrived.

There’s a new sheriff in town—President Donald Trump. He’s going to cleanse America and make it shine again. And he is going to start with you Muslims. He’s going to do to you Muslims what Hitler did to the Jews. You Muslims would be wise to pack your bags and get out of Dodge.

This is a great time for Patriotic Americans. Long live President Trump and God bless the USA.”

                                                            “Americans for a Better Way”

I wonder, and I cannot begin to imagine how sad, discouraged, and frightened that Muslim teacher and her family must feel; nor can I imagine what the millions of deeply religious, kind, and loving Muslim U.S. citizens must be feeling—surely the same sadness, discouragement, and fear.

I pray that President-Elect Trump and his administration strongly denounce such a threat and do everything possible to aggressively prosecute religious hate crimes.

For my part, I will continue to do whatever I can to stand up publicly in support of the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto, and more importantly, to abide by the Baptismal Covenant.

Bill Clarkson is the former headmaster of The Westminster Schools and current Practice Group Leader at Carney, Sandoe & Associates. Before joining Westminster, Bill was Head of the Potomac School in McLean, Virginia. An Episcopal priest, he has also worked in parish ministry and pastoral counseling.

Bill serves on several Boards, including the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, the Rabun Gap Nacoochee School, The FUGEES FAMILY, the R. Howard Dobbs, Jr. Foundation, and the Wilbur and Hilda Glenn Family Foundation.