Incivility and Prejudice in Lewiston Mayoral Race—AGAIN!

From the Executive Director
It is with heavy hearts that we heard of yet another incident involving bias attacks on a candidate in the Lewiston mayoral race. And while the Maine Council of Churches neither endorses nor opposes candidates for office, we do take a clear stand in favor of civil discourse in elections and governance, and a clear stand against prejudice and bias.

Yesterday’s statements by Maine State Representative Lawrence Lockman urging citizens not to vote for mayoral candidate Ben Chin because he is “not a Christian,” and because he has espoused “anti-Christian” views, were an affront to all people of faith, and to all of Maine’s citizens.

The Maine Council of Churches would have stood in solidarity with the victim of such an attack even if he were not a Christian. (Our recent efforts to promote interreligious dialogue by sponsoring events at Bowdoin College and the University of Southern Maine featuring speakers from many of the world’s great religions show that the Council acknowledges and celebrates the gift of faith as it is expressed in many different traditions.) However, Rep. Lockman’s attack was baseless: Chin actually is a Christian, a member of Trinity Episcopal Church in Lewiston, and a trained lay reader well-versed in biblical study, liturgy and theology. The supposed “anti-Christian” statements to which Lockman referred were actually highly edited excerpts taken out of context and twisted to convey sentiments Chin never intended. Ironically, those statements were actually lifted from the text of a sermon he had preached in his home church’s pulpit!

The Episcopal Diocese of Maine’s bishop, the Right Rev. Stephen T. Lane, felt compelled to issue a public statement in response to the attack, which read, in part: “Spirited public discourse is an important part of our civic life. Personal attacks on the character, ethnic origin, or religious beliefs are not. I call on all public officials and those seeking elected office, regardless of party or affiliation, to act in a way that reflects respect for every human being.” The Episcopal Diocese of Maine is a member denomination of the Maine Council of Churches, and fellow Council members join our voices with Bishop Lane’s in calling for civil discourse in Maine’s civic life and for respectful recognition of every human being’s dignity.

In response to yesterday’s attack, and to the attack several weeks ago involving racist signs posted on a Lewiston building, Chin said, “I will not respond by posting signs about the racial heritage of my attacker, nor stoop down to issue statements of hatred for my opponents, because the faith tradition I come from teaches us to pray for those who persecute us.” And with that, he bowed his head to pray the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; Where there is hatred, let me sow love; Where there is injury, pardon; Where there is error, truth; Where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light; And where there is sadness, joy.” To which the Maine Council of Churches can only respond, “Amen and Amen.”