as delivered on November 1, 2023, Houston, TX
Good evening, I am the Rev. Dr. Colin Bossen. I am the Senior Minister of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston. I am also a proud member of the Democratic Socialists of America.
I am here to call on Representative Lizzie Fletcher to join the resolution introduced by Representative Cori Bush calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. Tonight, I am not here speaking on behalf of either my congregation or DSA. I am representing myself.
I am representing myself, Representative Fletcher, I will get back to that point in a bit. Before I do, I want to share that the Unitarian Universalist Association has called for:
1. Ceasefire, de-escalation, and restraint by all sides;
2. All parties to abide by the laws of war, including the Geneva Conventions and customary international law;
3. Prioritizing steps to secure the immediate release of hostages and ensure international protections for civilians.
The Unitarian Universalist Association represents some thousand congregations across the United States, including eight here in the Houston area. In making this call, my religious association has joined with twenty-six other religious based organizations and denominations petitioning Congress, that means elected representatives like you, to do what you can to stop the killing. This includes, in the words of the letter these religious communities sent to Congress, opposition to “Any Congressional effort that is one-sided and rushes to send new weapons to Israel.” Such weapons, the letter continues, “will only intensify the conflict” and lead “to further deaths and destruction.”
Death and destruction, there has been a profound loss of life since Hamas’s gruesome October 7th attack ignited the most recent round of conflict. There is no excuse for the murder of more than 1,400 Israelis and the taking of more than 200 hostages. And there is no excuse for the response of the Israeli government under Benjamin Netanyahu. It has resulted in the deaths of more than 8,000 Palestinians, over 3,000 of them children. 3,000 dead children! Ceasefire now! It is time to say, not one more, cease fire now!
Cease fire now, this evening I am not representing my congregation. I am not representing my religious association or the twenty-six other religious communities who have joined together to call for representatives like you, Representative Fletcher, to support a ceasefire. I am representing myself.
And so, speaking for myself, there a few things I want to say in the hopes that they might inspire you, Representative Fletcher, to do the right thing and choose the path to peace and freedom over the road to violence and repression.
The first principle of my religious association calls for respect for the inherent worth and dignity of every human being. The principle parallels the teachings of many other religious traditions. In your own Christian tradition, Representative Fletcher, it resembles that claim found in Genesis that God created humanity “in the image of God”. If you go read the text, it is Genesis 1:26 in case you have forgotten, it does not say that God created only the Israelis in God’s own image. It does not say that God created only the Palestinians in God’s own image. It says, this foundational scripture of your tradition, that God created all of humanity in their image.
The teaching here is that all of human life is sacred. Not some human life. All of human life.
We need not believe in God to recognize this point. If there is anything that the long bloody twentieth-century has taught us it is that human rights are either for everyone or they are for no one.
Human rights are either for everyone or they are for no one.
Hamas did not respect human rights when it committed war crimes on October 7th. It did not respect them when 1,400 Israelis were murdered and 200 were kidnapped.
And the Israeli government under Benjamin Netanyahu is committing war crimes now. It is a war crime to engage in collective punishment. It is a war crime to target civilian infrastructure, to forcibly displace more than a million people, to deny civilians access to food, water, shelter, fuel, and medicine. And it is criminal to use the fog of war to continue to encourage, as Netanyahu’s government is doing right now, increased attacks by settlers on Palestinians in the West Bank. Since October 7th, around 100 of them have been killed there. Cease fire now!
Tit for tat war crimes, the cycle of revenge, will not bring peace. They will not bring justice. We know this from the last seventy-five years of conflict in Israel-Palestine. We know this from the study of human history.
Human rights are either for everyone or they are for no one. If we speak out against antisemitism, then we must speak out against Islamophobia. If we speak out against Islamophobia, then we must speak out against antisemitism.
Human rights are either for everyone or they are for no one. That, Representative Fletcher, is the truth that I want to represent to you this evening. Cease fire now!
Representative Fletcher, you are the representative for Texas’s 7th House District. You are responsible for representing the interests of the people of your diverse district in Congress. Some of the people that you represent are here tonight calling for you to support a cease fire. But I know that there are other voices that are just as loudly pulling you in a different direction. So, I want to ask you, what would it mean for you to represent yourself? Put differently, what is your conscience telling you to do?
Let me return to your Christian tradition for a moment. It teaches that human beings were made in the image of God. People who believe this are called to ask themselves, “What would God do in this situtation?” Do you believe in a compassionate God? A God who loves all of humanity equally? If so, what would that God have you do? Continue to advocate for a violent solution, continue down the path of war? Or would God call for a ceasefire now?
I am a Unitarian Universalist. And, personally, I am not so convinced that humanity was created in the image of God or that any being worthy of that name exists. But I do believe that we each, in the end, are accountable to our conscience. There is no law or responsibility higher than it. Every fifteen minutes a Palestinian child is being killed. Every hour that this conflict continues tensions are growing higher. Every day this goes on both antisemitism and Islamophobia increase. What does your conscience tell you, Representative Fletcher? Or if you prefer, what does the stirring of the God within you want you to do? Ceasefire now!
And, before I close, I am going to ask that those of us who are here together join in a time of silence. I want Representative Fletcher to hear our silence. I want it to be a loud silence. It represents the silence of death. It represents the final silence that comes to a Palestinian child when their body is ripped asunder by a bomb. It represents the final silence of a Palestinian family dying together right now as the assault on Gaza continues.
Into this silence I invite you to silently cast a prayer or a hope. Pray that Representative Fletcher does the right thing and decides to support a ceasefire. Pray that President Biden demands that Israel ends its attack. Pray that Israel stops dropping bombs and sending in ground troops.
Or simply take this time to strengthen your resolve to make these things so. Let us let Representative Fletcher hear our collective silence. And let us hope that it stirs her conscience.
And now, silence.
Cease fire now!