A celebration of the Golden Rule—treat others as you would like them to treat you—was held Thursday evening on the front steps of First Congregational Church in downtown Billings.
Representatives of various faiths and cultures shared readings that reflected the Golden Rule, or touched on the importance of acceptance, tolerance and love.
About 35 people gathered in the 8-degree weather to listen to a half hour’s worth of readings, each one answered by a group refrain of “Paz, peace, shalom, salaam. You are our neighbor, and we’re glad you’re here.”
The gathering was organized by the Rev. Tracy Heilman, pastor of the Columbus Community Congregational United Church of Christ. Her husband, Mike Mulberry, is the pastor at the downtown church where the gathering was held.
Heilman said a meeting she was supposed to attend on Tuesday was canceled, so she stopped by a Starbucks coffee shop where she ran into a group of acquaintances meeting to talk about immigration, LGBTQ rights and other topics that have taken on new importance in the early days of Donald Trump’s presidency.
They decided, as Heilman said, to put on an “interfaith service of prayer and solidarity,” where people could share “what words from their sacred texts or teachings call out to them to care for one another.”
Heilman said the gathering was also intended as a response to the National Prayer Breakfast, presided over by Trump in Washington, D.C., Thursday morning. When they were organizing the Golden Rule gathering, Heilman said, there were rumors that Trump was going to announce another immigration order at the prayer breakfast.
He did not, but he did use the ordinarily rather solemn occasion to ask the assembled faith leaders to pray for Arnold Schwarzenegger, who took over “The Apprentice” TV show that Trump used to host, and which has since been, in Trump’s words, a “total disaster.”
Speakers at the rally stayed more on point. Mulberry kicked things off by asking people to keep a hold on the “common thread in each one of our traditions.”
Leta Pepion, a member of the Blackfeet Nation, said that in the culture she grew up in, you were obliged to welcome strangers into your house, and to feed them. In the old days, she said, “there wasn’t such a thing as poverty. There wasn’t even a word for it.”
Aaron Rosen, a professor of religious thought at Rocky Mountain College, touched on a similar theme, saying the Jewish patriarch Abraham “had an open-tent policy,” and if he saw people approaching his dwelling he ran out to greet them. Rosen read briefly from the Hebrew Bible, then translated a passage about viewing strangers as “potential angels.”
That, he said, is a more humane and affirming perspective than looking on others as potential terrorists.
Danny Choriki, representing the Billings Association of Humanists, read from the Third Humanist Manifesto, with its emphasis on the value of all human beings. He also told the crowd, to a round of applause, that a March for Science has been scheduled for Earth Day, April 22, in Washington, D.C.
Scott Prinzing, speaking on behalf of the Billings Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, read from the UU’s seven “Principles and Purposes,” including a tenet that speaks of the “inherent worth and dignity of every person.”
Adam Mallak, a spiritual leader, or imam, at the Islamic Center of Billings, read several passages from the Quran in Arabic, followed by an English translation or paraphrase. Among them: “If you love each other because you love God, God is obligated to love you,” and “Allah says you don’t have faith if you don’t love your neighbor.”
The Rev. Stacey Siebrasse, pastor of First English Lutheran Church, read from John 13:34, which commands people to love one another as God loves them, and Carolyn Rosen, who is training to be an Episcopalian priest, read from Matthew 25, the passage that includes the clause, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
Heilman ended the short, chilly gathering by urging all in attendance to resolve to do at least one thing every day that shows they are loving their neighbors.