Editorial: Tolerance

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In the wake of irrational hatred and blinding stupidity, a small light has emerged that should give hope for the future of community relations in Queens. In the first hours of Christmas morning, a group of carolers returned to the Grace Presbyterian Church in Bayside to find that their church had been vandalized.

Using red spray paint, the idiot vandals wrote anti-Asian graffiti on the walls of the church that serves Korean Americans from Queens and Long Island. The vandals also painted graffiti on a car belonging to one of the congregants and threw a brick through the windshield.

If that was all that happened, this would be no more than just another act of mindless bigotry made more notable perhaps by the fact that the vandals struck on Christmas morning. But what is truly remarkable here, and what gives us reason for hope, is the reaction of the church’s Bayside neighbors.

It’s no secret to readers of the TimesLedger papers that there has been tension in Queens brought on by the growing number of houses of worship serving predominantly immigrant congregations. We have heard so often that these religious institutions have had a negative impact on the quality of life in residential neighborhoods. And we reported that these groups often have little or no contact with the community.

How refreshing it was to hear civic leader Blanche Felton, the head of the John Golden Park Block Association, praise the church as a valued member of the community. “They are a wonderful group of people,” said Felton, whose civic uses the church as a meeting place. “Over the years we have developed a real solid relationship.”

Speaking of the vandalism, Felton said, “I’m sickened by it. I think it’s totally offensive.” We are certain that sentiment is shared by the vast majority of the people living in Queens.

Pastor Yon Kwon said his church has donated money to the nearby St. Mary’s Hospital for Children and maintained positive relations with both Felton’s civic and the residents of Bayside Gables, a smaller neighborhood.

In the year to come, we hope that other congregations will learn from the example set by Grace Presbyterian. This church took the initiative to reach out quietly to area residents. They opened their doors to several community groups and they have made solid friends.

As for the vandals, they should be arrested and punished to the full extent of the law. Although crime is down, there has been an alarming increase in attacks against religious institutions, including swastikas painted on synagogues and statues broken at Catholic churches.

It shouldn’t happen anywhere and it certainly shouldn’t happen here. Northeast Queens is the birthplace of religious tolerance since the time that Quakers first arrived in Flushing and found a safe haven there. Today one can find houses of worship representing virtually every religion from the Lutherans to the Sikhs. This is one of things that make Queens a great place to live.

If you know who these vandals are, you have a moral obligation to turn their names over to the police. They need to be stopped before vandalism turns to violence. More important, they need to understand that there is no room in Queens for people who hate.

Updated 10:25 am, October 12, 2011
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