By The Rev. Tom Capo
Last week, a controversy has arisen in our city.
A blurry image of Jesus next to a fireman and a passage from the book of Proverbs was noticed on a Cedar Rapids fire truck. A person who noticed this image filed a formal complaint with the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission. The commission, doing its job as determined by its charter, approached the Fire Department, and a decision was made to alter the image to remove its religious symbolism and text. A number of people are upset about this change, because this is a Christian nation.
Now we must ask: What does this say about the city of Cedar Rapids and the people who live here? Before we answer this question, I must tell you that the United States is not solely a Christian nation. We are and always have been a melting pot of cultures and religions. Even in this city, our forebears were diverse. Our Mother Mosque is one of the oldest mosques in the United States. Muslims are some of our Cedar Rapids’ forebears.
And this city has a rich history of religious diversity and interfaith work. The Inter-Religious Council of Linn County has been in existence for more than 20 years with members from the Jewish temple, the Islamic mosques, the many different Christian churches, the Bahai temple, the Buddhist temple, the Unitarian Universalist church, as well as an American Indian tribe.
When the Flood of 2008 hit, all faiths, evangelical and progressive, Jewish and Buddhist, people from all religious and cultural traditions, worked together to help one other and to help preserve our city. And when we commemorated the 10th anniversary of 9/11 in Veterans Memorial Stadium, 2,000 people of all faiths joined hands together to worship, remember and reflect, and move forward in the spirit of love and tolerance.
When I was helping put together the 9/11 Remembrance Service, I spoke with members of our local fire department — they were bringing a piece of the twin towers to the service to help us remember. I told them that all faiths would be present at the service, and they said that they are called to help all people. They do not stop at the door when putting out a fire and ask “what is your religion” or “what is your culture.”
This memory came rushing back when the issue of the image on the fire truck came up. I wondered about those who want the image to remain the same. Do they not realize that Cedar Rapids is a melting pot? That our country is a melting pot?
That being a land of rich diversity has allowed our country to thrive, to grow, to be one of the most creative places in the world. Do they not realize that we are enriched by one another’s history, background, religion? Most important, do they realize the fire department doesn’t want to be put in the middle of this controversy?
To be a Creative Corridor, we must be enriched by one another. This is the path we are on now. And I for one, as a person of faith, hope we stay on this path, and not let an image, or lack of one, divide us.The Rev. Tom Capo is minister at Peoples Church Unitarian Universalist in Cedar Rapids. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org