Our Values: Tests of moral imagination–did a small town pass or fail?
By: Wayne Baker
This week on Our Values, we’re talking about “moral imagination” in honor of the King holiday.
Last night, I had a chance to watch a test of moral imagination in a small Midwestern town. The occasion was a forum called “Differences without Divisions: Islam in America,” held at the local library in Chelsea, Michigan, as part of the local observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The forum included nationally known Muslim leaders: Imam Hassan Al-Qazwini, author and religious leader of a large mosque in Dearborn, Najah Bazzy, director of Zaman International, and Dawud Walid, head of the Michigan chapter of CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations).
The forum was meant to be a civil exercise of moral imagination—providing insight and perspective on the lives of Muslims in America today. It’s precisely what Obama had in mind when he defined moral imagination as our ability to stand in another person’s shoes, to see through their eyes, to imagine ourselves in another’s situation.
But the event also became a test of moral imagination. The event organizers learned just days ago that members of a conservative church planned to disrupt the event. Conversations buzzed in Chelsea over fears that ranged from a picket line to someone in the audience trying to seize the microphone during the Q&A session.
What happened? None of those fears materialized. There wasn’t any attempt to disrupt the event. I don’t know why, but I like to think that it was the spirit of moral imagination that prevailed. That was certainly the spirit of the event itself. The main room was filled to capacity, and a sizable overflow crowd participated via live feeds in adjacent rooms.
Sure, there were plenty of provocative questions—but none that one could say was disruptive.
What was your experience on MLK Day?
Did you also see positive experiences of moral imagination?