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Rev. Peg Chemberlin

Executive Director, Minnesota Council of Churches

Minnesota religious leaders against religious-based violence

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.

There was:

The Inquisition

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

There was:

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.”

Labor Day 2014: Life in community always includes deep and difficult struggles

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.’

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