Thanksgiving and Prejudice

This week brings a deep contrast of thoughts and feelings in the religious world of Long Island. At CCH we are busy preparing for our annual Pilgrim Thanksgiving Festival. The festival is a fun time for adults and children as we seek to enhance the spirit of Thanksgiving. Dressing up as a pilgrim is silly, yet I always hope that even such an event may, in some small way, remind us all of the possibilities of relationships as idealized in our thanksgiving story.

At the other end of the Long Island our Christian brothers and sisters at the Congregational Church of Patchogue have been struggling to cope with a heinous hate crime. In fact, all of us Long Islanders have been horrified by the murder of Marcello Lucero by seven teenagers who were out looking to beat up Hispanics.

The Rev. Dwight Wolter has worked hard this week to help Lucero’s family as well as us all to come to grips with this awful event. Dwight initiated a quick response by our Suffolk Association to grant $500 to pay for the transportation of Lucero’s body back to his native Ecuador and money to fund anti-prejudice work in Patchogue. The Patchogue church is also hosting Lucero’s funeral this Saturday, at 7:00 PM. I am proud of our brothers and sisters in Christ who have risen to the challenge and responded with pastoral care and prophetic concern.

The murder of Lucero is, of course, horrendous in and of itself. It becomes more than a particular event by this group because racial prejudice drove these young men to their awful deed. Prejudice shown in one person or group is always a reflection of currents in the larger community. Unfortunately, Latino immigrants have been vilified and scapegoated for many of our society’s problems. The issue of illegal immigration is a significant problem that needs to include discussions of fair wages, trade, and larger federal issues. Too often this debate has descended into name-calling—and Hispanics are called most of the ugly names.

Our Pilgrim forebears also had a terrible streak of prejudice that reached its awful peak in King Philip’s War in which most of the Native Americans of New England were killed or sent off into slavery. We do true justice to our past when we remember it for good and bad. And we do justice to our brothers and sisters of all races when we work to create communities of understanding and peace.

The first Thanksgiving was filled with suspicion and fear. We know the Pilgrims included a display of military power in an attempt to frighten their dinner guests. We know of the terrible atrocities of our ancestors—all of us at one time or another. We remember these things, but we chose to celebrate the essential, and at times romantic, notion of community that bridges our ethnic, racial and religious divides. We give thanks for this because we know it is not easy to keep our hearts and minds open to others. There is always, have always been, people who live by hate and vengeance. That is why we must not only speak for understanding and love, but we must act in accepting and reconciling ways to counter the strong tides of prejudice that always seek to overwhelm. I am deeply saddened by the murder of Marcello Lucero in Patchogue this week. I am hopeful this will spur us to work harder to defeat prejudice in all its forms. And I do pray that we have a good time at the festival and that while running around in our costumes we may pause to say a prayer of thanksgiving for the notion that all people may, one day, gather around a table of acceptance and care.


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