Let them go hungry in Jesus’ Name?
by Sheila Musaji
We received a press release (at the bottom of this article) from SALDEF - the Sikh American Legal and Defense Fund, and found it so disgusting that we did a little research.
There is an organization called The Union Mission in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina. According to the organization’s web-site they have been serving the needs of the homeless, needy and poor since 1951. With the crosses and Bible verses, it is obvious that this is a Christian organization. It appears that they are a 501c organization. Nowhere on the site does it say anything about only accepting donations from Christians only, or helping Christians only. The letter sent to SALDEF in response to SALDEF’S concerns is signed by a Rev. Ronald Weeks, Executive Director. Valley Community Church published a short information piece about Ronald Weeks and the Mission with a request for community support. There is a list of churches in Roanoke Rapids and the Union Mission is listed under “missions” but with no denomination shown. The Mission seems to be part of the North Carolina Victim Assistance Network. Recently a local newspaper, the Roanoke Rapids Daily Herald published an article stating that they were having a hard time making ends meet. They needed additional donations of food and cash in order to continue serving the needy. The paper published the following information: The Mission is located at 1310 Roanoke Ave., and may be reached by phone at (252) 537-3372. All of this means that this is a “legitimate” organization that has been doing charitable work for a long time. Their intention may be good, but somehow something has been lost in the practical application of that intention.
When this Christian charitable organization was approached by a member of another faith who was offering to help them to feed the needy, their response was less than charitable, less than humble, and less than civilized. Please read the following press release, and consider adding your voice by writing a letter, sending an email or phoning the Rev. Weeks and the Union Mission.
I don’t believe that this incident reflects Christian values, or the values of any particular Christian denomination. In fact, I don’t believe it represents the values of any religion, or the values of ordinary Americans. I would hope that not only the Sikh community, but members of all other religious communities would contact Rev. Weeks and the Union Mission and let them know that this sort of behavior is hateful and offensive.
Based on the information presented, it would seem that the Khera family had a better understanding not only of their own Sikh values, but also of the values taught by Jesus than did the folks at the Union Mission.
Perhaps this incident can be turned into an opportunity for dialogue and understanding rather than just another act of senseless prejudice. Perhaps we will reach a day when all people of faith are able to work together on issues such as feeding and clothing the poor that we all agree are necessary and important to our various faiths. We don’t have to agree on theology in order to agree on basic human decency and compassion.
Sikh American Expelled from North Carolina Food Bank for Practicing his Faith; SALDEF Urges Interfaith Groups to Support Religious Freedom
Washington, DC, November 20, 2008 – Yesterday, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) learned that Mr. Gurnam Singh Khera—a Sikh American—was expelled from a community center in North Carolina because he wore a Dastaar (Sikh turban) in accordance with his faith.
The incident reportedly occurred at the Union Mission facility in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina. Mr. Khera and his wife went to the facility to make a donation for a Thanksgiving Food Drive and expressed interest in sending their children to the facility during the Thanksgiving holidays to serve food to the needy.
Upon entering the facility, Mr. Khera was told by a receptionist that “this is the United States” and that he needed to remove his Dastaar. When Mr. Khera attempted to explain the religious significance of the Dastaar, the receptionist refused to speak with him. When the Reverend in charge of the facility was summoned, Mr. Khera offered a handshake, but the Reverend reportedly refused to reciprocate and asked Mr. Khera and his wife to leave the facility, saying: “Go donate to some other place; we do not need your donations unless you remove your turban.”
Every Sikh Gurdwara—place of worship—throughout the world has operated the Guru Ka Langar—free community kitchen—for more than five centuries. At each Guru Ka Langar, volunteers of all faiths serve free meals to all visitors, regardless of race, religion, gender, caste, or social standing. In keeping with this tradition, Sikh Americans throughout the United States have routinely partnered with churches and other places of worship to feed the homeless and provide relief to victims of natural disasters.
“We are profoundly offended that a community center would repudiate a Sikh American because of his religion and refuse his Thanksgiving donation,” said Rajbir Singh Datta, National Director of SALDEF. “Religious discrimination has no place in the United States, and we call upon Union Mission to issue a written apology to Mr. Khera and the entire Sikh American community and work with SALDEF on efforts to celebrate religious diversity in the cause of helping the less fortunate.”
Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF)
1413 K St, NW, 5th floor | Washington, DC 20005
phone: 202-393-2700 | fax: 202-318-3344