Violence in the Name of Religion
I want to say a thank you to all who speak out against violence in the name of faith and violence aimed at those of a different faith. And make note that such speaking out comes from many, many faith groups.
For more than 40 years the Minnesota Council of Churches, and many other councils of churches, have been in interfaith dialogue and in that time we have heard these other faith groups denounce the use of violence again and again.
When one asks, “Why I work so hard to gather in interfaith activity?” I may have a fairly distinct notion of who I believe God to be as revealed in Jesus Christ, and I may find that stands in opposition to another faith. But precisely because of what I know about God in Jesus Christ, I am obligated to my fellow citizens and therefore I work for the good of all. That commitment to the common good propels my commitment to democracy and the freedom of religion therein.
Minnesota Council of Churches works hard to gather in interfaith not because we agree with all those other religions. It’s not because we believe there are no distinctions between us theologically, but we make this interfaith effort in the public arena because we value our neighbor, because we believe that faith needs to be expressed in public life, and because we honor the constitution, which guarantees the right to religious freedom, without threat of violence.
We share concern for global violent repression due to faith such as Christians in areas like Syria, Iran, and most recently the beheading of Copts in Libya. We are also concerned about the role Christians have played in religious oppression.
Lest any Christians think that we Christians are exempt from religious-based violence: remember the Holocaust. Hitler was raised as a Christian. He attempted to create a unified Protestant Reich Church from Germany's 28 existing Protestant churches to use the church for his ends.
Remember the KKK? Most members of the Ku Klux Klan saw themselves as holding to American values and Christian morality, the Christian cross was burned, prayers offered up, and hymns sung for the sake of whiteness at KKK rallies.
Remember the Indian Removal Act of 1830 in which thousands of Native Americans died? This Act was passed by many legislators who called themselves Christian. This act required that those Native Americans who chose not to assimilate with American society be removed. And assimilating to American society was often interpreted as becoming Christian.
Puritans hanging Quakers in Boston
The Oklahoma City bombing
White supremacist groups called by names like: The Covenant, The Sword, and the Arm of the Lord
Colonel John Covington, a Christian minister, who ordered the Sand Creek Massacre.
During the Dakota War here in Minnesota, people of faith fought against Native American brothers and sisters and a faith element was brought into that fight.
And there continue to be acts by individuals, who understand themselves to be Christians, whose acts result in the deaths of others based on difference of religion.
But in all these cases there were people of faith resisting such actions or later confessing such actions. Christians were among those resisters as well.
During the Dakota war Bishop Whipple sought justice for wrongly accused Dakota men.
Missionaries to the Cherokee, Choctaws and Seminole pleaded with the churches to fight the Indian Removal Act.
The denominations have acknowledged culpability for situations like the Sand Creek massacre.
Virtually every large Christian denomination has officially denounced the Ku Klux Klan.
The Confessing Church in Germany finally prevented the success of Hitler’s United Protestant Church.
Today I join those who would resist the violence perpetuated in religious disagreement. We affirm the best of this country’s intention to allow religious liberty even when we may deeply disagree with each other. And we affirm the best of our faiths’ traditions which call for respectful engagement with each other and denounce the use of violence toward other faith groups.
We must be ever mindful about the language we use for and toward the other. And we must keep a strong and steady witness to our calling to work together.
On September 16, 2001, at the state capitol, 35,000 Minnesotans gathered. Thousands more participated from home; all of the television stations carried the event. And religious leadership was present. The Governor’s office had spoken with the Minnesota Council of Churches, asking the council to gather a diverse group of religious leaders. Three days later an unprecedented group was present: ELCA and Roman Catholic bishops, head rabbis, the head of our largest Islamic Center, an imam of the Somali community, an elder of the Ojibway nation, the president of the State Baptist Convention, the district superintendent of the Assemblies of God, the regional leadership of the Salvation Army, a Coptic Orthodox priest, a Hindu priest, a representative of the Baha’i community, and a lama from the Tibetan Buddhist community. All together witnessing against the power of violence to settle or create anything. Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders all denounced the violence perpetrated against the World Trade Center and all of America.
That day I said and today I say again, “I am deeply humbled by the willingness of these religious leaders to step forward as a sign of the marvelous faith diversity in a land of religious freedom and to say that together, out of mutual care for the people of this land, we proclaim that terrorism and violence will not have the last word.”
I pray for two things on this Labor Day. First, for the people of Minnesota who work, or long to work, that labor would result in sustenance for daily need, for all those affected by labor dispute, those engaged in the discussions, their families, those laid off from work, those who have had no work for a long time, those whose businesses or services and ministries have been halted.
Secondly, I pray for a new vison and experience of reconciliation in the midst of conflict. I pray that our tendencies toward fragmentation and alienation would be overcome by desire for reconciliation. I pray for swift, peaceful, and just resolution to any labor conflicts, that we might find in one another the needed co-creators of the common good.
We give thanks today for the lack of violence related to labor issues in our time. My grandfather was at the Maytag plant in Newton Iowa; in 1938 when violence erupted and men were killed (according to family stories); he never fully recovered from that experience. We remember the strike of the Minneapolis Teamsters in 1934 in which police fired on striking truck drivers. Drivers were demanding recognition of their union, wage increases, and shorter working hours. As violence escalated, Governor Olson declared martial law in Minneapolis, deploying 4,000 National Guardsmen. We have turned some important corners since then and thankfully violence is not a part of labor disputes in Minnesota these days. Yet we still fall short of seeing each other as co-creators of the common good.
I share a passage which is part of the shared sacred texts of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. This scripture passages has stood for centuries witnessing to the reality that life in community often entails deep and difficult struggles. The Isaiah calls the community to “quit pointing the finger and speaking wickedness.” The prophet reminds us, the community, the king, the powers that be, that community is a delicate thing which needs careful tending. The Isaiah passage offers us encouragement in such efforts.
“If you take away from the midst of you the yoke,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and you gloom be as the noonday.
And the Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your desire with good things,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters fail not,
And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairers of the breach,
the restorers of streets to dwell in.
We still live in a culture which too often has seen disagreement erupt into finger pointing and the speaking of wickedness about each other. Our community -- that is our cities, our state, our country, our world -- our community continues to divide itself into special interest shards, shards which can’t carry a commitment to a common good. In such a moment we call upon one another to pick up those many shards in many colors to carry them gingerly to the place where together with others we can build a new stain glass window to the future, boisterous in its color, reverent in its commitment. In the midst of the rending of the fabric of society we are called to be repairers of the breach.
I call upon us all to be part of a new model which understands the right of self- interest but also the responsibility to negotiate that self-interest in the context of the larger community. We, in Minnesota have a heritage which is built on the understanding that the larger vision of self-interest is directly related to community interest. Let us pray that we all would turn toward that promised day, so that we can’ raise up the foundations of many generations; and be called the repairers of the breach, the restorers of streets to dwell in.’
I am of the first generation to see a photo of the earth from space. In that view is one, single, earth. It is a view of the connectedness, and that new view of the world helped launch a new worldview. It’s a worldview our sacred Scriptures had already offered us over the centuries, a view of the unity of creation. It's always been a part of who we are and yet for the first time some of us got to see that oneness, we got to see the actual view of the world that ought to push us to a new worldview. It is a worldview that says, “no matter what you do it has a relationship to everybody else and every other thing on this planet. There cannot be a breeze in Alaska that's not felt in the Bahamas. There cannot be a ripping up the earth in Peru that's not felt in New England. There cannot be a war in Eastern Europe that isn’t experienced by all of us in some way around the world.”
I pray that in seeing the view of the world we embrace a worldview that requires us to take seriously how every action, every public policy has an environmental impact not just for our small space on the planet but the whole planet, not just this small moment on the planet but for the entire future of the entire planet. We must recognize that we are merely tenants on this planet, and we have been called to care for Creation so that future generations can live, thrive, and enjoy it just as we do. God has granted us use of Creation, but along with this gift comes the responsibility to tend and care for the land.
Earlier this year a letter was sent to President Obama form the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Council of Churches of Christ, and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs among other national religious leaders.
Dear Mr. President:
We write to you as leaders representing an alliance of diverse religious traditions…The broader religious community shares a deep conviction that the issue of global climate change presents an unprecedented threat to the integrity of life on Earth and a challenge to values that bind us as human beings.
Then they said to the President, as I say to our elected officials here in MN, “as you make key decisions … we urge you to be guided by a moral framework that includes … being responsible stewards of God’s creation.” Here in MN support a Minnesota Clean Energy Plan. Protect our lakes, our rivers, our streams our drinking water, and not just for us but for our children unto the 7th generation.
Today Minnesota’s Electoral College gathered in the State Capitol Rotunda to formally cast Minnesota’s votes for president. I have been asked to do the opening prayer on behalf of all of Minnesota(not easy to do or even possi I have been asked before but I am honored to have again been asked especially now. It seems like a particularly important time to pray. Our country is in need to prayer, think. So I want it share my prayer with you here. Perhaps it can help encourage a wave of prayer.
Creator God, in a single moment you hurled the worlds into being, countless suns yet one universe. You called forth life on our plant, diverse in its essential nature, yet of one linage and one future. You give us one another with a great diversity of gifts and the whisper of a uniting vision. And you invite us to join you in the ever-unfolding work of manifesting the interrelatedness of your creation community.
Today we join the millions who pray for Newtown CT and mourn the loss of the twenty children and six adults at the Sandy Hook School. May our democracy help us to find ways to protect our children as the president has asked.
Today we also thank you:
for the gifts of wisdom and conviction in those who have gone before us,
for the untold workers in the service of democracy
for deep commitment of the people of Minnesota’s to the voting process.
for the ways this national election season may have opened up the path toward more common good.
And we confess the ways in which we also let our election season trap us in accusatory posturing, disrespect, and fear. Give us a new commitment to your gift of democracy, honoring it in all we do, and in the decisions that are made on our behalf.
We call on you, Most Holy One, to be a witness to our hope this day.
And we ask that You would give hope to our days to come.
We know you are the God of blessing and power and we ask that you bless the efforts of this day and of the days to come, that they may bear fruit in our nation.
Bless this gathering and those whose efforts bring it about. May what we do here today increase our ability to be a blessing to democracy and may our democracy to the worldwide common good.
With longing hearts we pray for the fullness of peace, justice, and wellbeing for all.
For peace, for shalom, salaam, shanty; may it all be so, amen
I began getting the AARP magazine a few years back. You know what that means; I am, as they say, “Of an age...” The first years were harder, I began to think of all the things I would never do. I would never be a trapeze artist. I would never run a marathon (I don’t think). I would never have lovely hands, even though I now had the discipline to take good care of my nails (aren’t they lovely) the arthritis has swollen my knuckles. I am unlikely to see great-grandchildren. I waited until I was thirty-six to have a child. If she waits that long, and her daughter waits that long, I’d have to be 108 - I suppose it is possible. At this point my ability to produce financially is closing in and I realize that I will never own that stone mansion on highway seven, or a cabin on Lake Superior, much less ride the Orient Express.
And yet the possibilities are still limitless, infinite, I have realized. There are things I can’t, won’t, do but the things I could do are endless. I am not likely to visit every lake in Minnesota (have about 9500 of them to go). But I could drive a boat along the whole shoreline of Lake Minnetonka. I am not likely to take a solo trip down the whole length of the Mississippi, but I could canoe for a mile at a number of points along it. Or walk a mile at the beginning and at the end. I am not going to start a gardening business but I could pull a weed in my yard every minute of every day, I think. Or how about get a purple ribbon at the country fair for my roses?
I am never going to be the President of the United Sates of America, but I could send him (or her) a letter on the first of every month, or every Sunday, or every day, or an email every hour – you get the idea. Possibilities are endless.
I will not discover the cure for cancer, but I can work on making the last days of a cancer patient better with support of a family who is going through such a time. Or I may be able to be involved in the on-going work with the local hospital to build up its hospice system. Or I could join a group working to change the Medicare laws for better support of hospice. Or contact my local state representative to find out what kind of legislation he or she is thinking about that might affect these issues. Or I could give a donation to one of the cancer charities or walk in the 5k to raise money and awareness. Or put together a hospice study at church. I could read up on a certain kind of cancer so that I can figure out how I could be helpful.
The point is this, that while my infinity doesn’t include every possibility it does include an endless number of possibilities? So if you’re now of AARP age, or any age – know that the possibilities we still have are endless, we just have to imagine things in a new way.