Last week my friend and colleague the Rev. Cindy McCalmont of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) wrote an “op ed” for the Mercury News that has not yet been published. She sent this to me and other clergy to ask if we would sign on to this “op ed” at the time of publishing. I agreed to sign my name to the document below.
You might remember Cindy came and spoke to Bethel about the wonderful work NAMI is doing at one of our First Wednesday Speaker Series earlier this year.
I wanted you to see the important distinction between hate and mental illness when it comes to mass violence.
August 23, 2019
To the residents of Santa Clara County:
As spiritual leaders in this beautiful valley, we unite to make this proclamation:
Hate is not a mental illness.
While these words aren’t original to us, they speak a truth we desperately need in the aftermath of yet more violence in Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton. It’s a truth that unites us, emboldens us, and makes clear the work that is ours to do in this community. And what is that work?
To stand against hatred and to stand beside those with mental illness.
Despite what the media and our elected officials may allege, those with mental illnesses are not the primary perpetuators of gun violence. Yes, of course, untreated psychosis can lead to violence, but the vast majority of gun violence is the product of far more insidious problems–problems like racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia.
Our diverse spiritual traditions have much to say about the many faces of hatred and the violence they incite. “Whoever kills a person [unjustly]…it is as though he has killed all mankind. And whoever saves a life, it is as though he had saved all mankind.”(The Qu’ran)
Our traditions also make it clear how easy it is to point a finger at others without taking a hard look at ourselves: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own?” Jesus asks.
The plank in our own eyes is how passive we’ve been as we’ve allowed the media to perpetuate the myth that mental illness equals violence. The plank in our own eyes is how little we’ve done to challenge all that fuels hatred.
“Hark! Your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the earth,” God says to Cain in the Torah. The blood that has been spilled far exceeds that at the Gilroy Garlic Festival or the Walmart in El Paso or outside the Ned Peppers Bar in Dayton. It is blood that is being spilled in suicides in our community every day as people with mental illnesses struggle not just with their symptoms but also with our disdain.
Hate is not a mental illness. It is a condition that must be transformed, as Thich Nhat Hanh teaches, into love.
Together, we commit ourselves to transforming hatred into love by speaking against extreme acts of violence but also against the small discriminations and implicit biases that plague us all.
Update: The Mercury News printed the “op ed” today.