A few months ago, spurred on by a spate of hate crimes in our small town of Olympia, I along with a group of local clergy met to think about what we can do. While we all understand the pastoral and teaching role we play in our communities, serving our own traditions, we also take seriously the role we can play in the public sphere, bringing the language of morality and ethics to our political and civic conversations.
From our initial meeting came the idea to craft a “charter of compassion,” a statement of values that we wanted to offer to our community and civic leadership. The idea is that the response to hate crimes would not just be about individual victimization but about the violation of fundamental values as a community.
The charter would also potentially inform other communal conversations. In my mind, I thought that having a statement of values that could be used to address our response to the issue of people suffering homelessness, that policy decisions could be made not just by political expediency, or solely in response to a vocal stakeholder, but by an appeal to basic spiritual and moral values.
We crafted a statement and passed it along to local clergy to sign on. We created a website that would allow any community member to affirm the charter. Last week we then brought it to City Council, reading it as part of the open comment period that opens each meeting. As the comment period came to a close, to our surprise, Councilmember Nathaniel Jones immediately made a motion to adopt the charter, a motion that then passed unanimously.
The timing of the release of the charter to the election was somewhat coincidental. We did not mean to time it to come out after the election, delays in planning pushed back the original date prior to the election that we had hoped to present it. Of course if things had gone according to plan we would not have known the results of the election. But perhaps it was the news of the election that led to the motivation to embrace this document.
I also recognize I’m posting this on our national holiday of Thanksgiving, which carries with it different meanings to different populations. For some a celebration, for others a day of lament. For some a focus on season and harvest, for others a focus on gratitude and humility. For some a focus on community, for others a focus on family. For some a time of harmony, for others a time of discord.
For all of these, the value of compassion can be our intention–a powerful motivator for how we relate to each other, to our history, to our community. Compassion does not imply approval or agreement, it is what simply brings us to recognize the fundamental dignity and worth of everyone. It is my prayer that we truly see compassion for all people made manifest in the days, weeks and years to come.
While originally written in response to past events, it may be this Charter of Compassion that will carry us forward to face the future.
The text of the charter is below, I invite everyone who so wishes to go to olycompassion.org and sign up.
- As a community, we recognize the inherent worth and dignity of all persons. In doing so, we strive to practice respect and compassion towards one another, engage in civil dialogue, honor each individual as we ourselves would like to be honored.
- As a community, we recognize our interdependence. In doing so, we strive to work collaboratively, bringing all voices to the table to solve community issues for the benefit of everyone.
- As a community, we believe we must create a society where all people are able to live into their best selves. In doing so, we use our best efforts to work together for the common good. This means that public officials and citizens speak out with one voice against bigotry, racism, and religious prejudice.
- As a community, we strive to live our shared values as we work to build a community that welcomes and respects the unique gifts brought by all those who make up our diverse Olympia community.