By MIKE KILEN • January 20, 2009
Love thy neighbor.
Three simple words.
Check that. Not simple.
Partners Cyndi Wiley and the Rev. Jennifer Hall experienced plenty of hate in the months after Sept. 11, 2001, in St. Louis.
Muslims were a target of hatred. Protestors railed against homosexuals outside churches. A person screamed at the gay couple while they innocently walked through a drug store parking lot.
The easy thing to do would be to hate the haters.
But Wiley and Hall had a better idea.
They created a T-shirt: Love Thy Neighbors on the front and, on the back, "Thy homeless neighbor, thy Muslim neighbor, thy black neighbor, thy gay neighbor, thy white neighbor, thy Jewish neighbor, thy transgender neighbor, thy atheist neighbor, thy racist neighbor."
Wiley, a graphic artist with her own company, called Studio 3b, and Hall, an ordained minister, began wearing the shirts with a telephone number in 2002 and the orders started piling in.
People stopped them in the street to ask where they got it. After moving to Des Moines 1½ years ago, the positive reactions and sales on their Web site studio3b.org continue.
They grew tired of having to say they are Christians but don't hate other groups of people, so created a list that would strike a chord. They labored over it, digging deep to include their own dislikes and disagreements, such as racists and atheists.
Taken together, the list had impact.
It's a message found in all three major Abrahamic faiths — Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
"It's love thy neighbor, not love thy same neighbor," said Hall, an Iowa Health Systems chaplain.
"I know people in every category. To me, it says something about what God calls us to do."
"I wear it," said Wiley from her home office in Urbandale, "as a personal reminder."
The T-shirts ($15 short sleeve, $20 long sleeve) are challenging people to practice what they preach.
"It calls us to question, even those left-leaning progressives who get entrenched in their prejudices," said Connie Ryan Terrell, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, which fights against using religion to promote discrimination. "If I'm going to wear it on my back, I have to think of it and make it happen."
In an age of rubber bracelets, promoting causes and thoughts, a T-shirt with a request for love is a natural fit for the younger crowd to announce who they are as a person.
"Love thy neighbor means love thy oppressors. Love thy neighbor means it's unacceptable not to love the bigots," said Cristie Cole, 25 a Grand View College senior who is president of the Grand View Pride Club, a gay/lesbian activist group which is selling the shirts for a fund-raiser.
"I wear my shirt, not because I'm changing a bigot's heart, but to say that I'm OK with you whether you are black or whether you hate me because I'm gay."