Religious Leaders Call For Faith-based Response
BETWEEN THE LINES Q&A
from the nationally syndicated radio newsmagazine
"Between The Lines"
weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints on national
and international issues under-reported in major
For release Sept. 24, 2001
Progressive Religious Leaders Issue Call for a Faith-based Response to Terrorism
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* Rev. Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine says,
"This is a short window of time to raise a voice to our political leaders and say 'Let us not become like those who have done this to us. Let us respond in a different kind of way.'"
As the nation attempted to come to grips with the enormity of the loss of life and massive destruction wrought by the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., some on the religious right used the occasion to say that the sins of Americans were responsible for the attack. Television evangelists Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, who spoke on the Christian Broadcast Network's 700 Club program, stated that homosexuals, feminists, abortion rights supporters and civil liberties groups bear some of the blame for the Sept. 11th terror assaults. President Bush, who received significant support from Falwell and Robertson in last year's presidential election, described the remarks as "inappropriate."
But a broad coalition of Christian, Jewish and Muslim clergy responded to the tragedy in a very different way. More than 1,000 progressive religious leaders, thus far, have signed onto a statement titled, "Deny Them Their Victory: A Religious Response To Terrorism." Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with the Rev. Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners Magazine, who summarizes the statement he helped draft and his concerns as America and the world enter a new and dangerous era.
Jim Wallis: This is a time that's like no other - a time most of us have never known. It's going to change us in profound ways -- it already has. As religious leaders, a lot of us felt we needed some kind of word being spoken. You saw on your television sets and radio -- all the services on Friday, Saturday and Sunday (Sept. 14 to16). The religious community certainly has a role to play as we did in trying to comfort this deep, deep grief and mourn for those who are dead and bring us together. But I think also, that our own traditions in the religious community have to help us find a response. We face some deep and profound questions about what this attack will do to us as a nation.
The statement we sent out a few days ago has gotten hundreds of signatures now -- Muslims, Catholics, Jews, Protestants, black and white Christians. It says: "The terrorists have offered us a stark view of the world they would create with a remedy to every human grievance and injustice is a resort to the random and cowardly violence of revenge, even against the most innocent. Having taken thousands of our lives, attacked our national symbols, forced our political leaders to flee their chambers of governance, disrupted our work and families, and struck fear in the hearts of our children, the terrorists must feel victorious. But we can deny them their victory by refusing to submit to a world created in their image."
(The statement ) talks about how this must not drive us away from being the people that we've been called to be. We have to assert the vision of community and tolerance and compassion and justice and the sacredness of human life which lies at the heart of our traditions. Most of us believe these people should be brought to justice, but that speaks to the rule of law. And what I'm most concerned about -- many of us are -- is that out of anger or revenge, which I understand completely, that there'd be indiscriminate violence against innocent lives. And as one woman said on TV the other night, "President Bush, please don't spread our pain. We've seen the pain, don't spread our pain."
This is a short window of time perhaps, where we have to raise a voice to our political leaders, to say, "Let us not become part of the evil that we loathe. Let us not become like those who have done this to us. Let us respond in a different kind of way."
Sure and certain, those who have done this must be brought to justice. But I don't want the children of Kabul, Afghanistan bombed because of what happened at the New York World Trade towers. So that's my concern, and in the statement, all that we're doing is trying to raise a voice for a response that reflects our best values as a people and doesn't resort to sometimes our worst instincts.
Between The Lines: In that statement, Jim Wallis, there was talk of a test for our national character. Would you elaborate on that? What is the test, do you think, we're being put through at this moment?
Jim Wallis: I think terrorism inflicts not only death and destruction, but emotional oppression to further its aims. In one sense, these are people who are trying to create a world in their own image and if we respond to them in kind, if we -- I saw a young, teen-age kid on television yesterday, say "I don't want to be like them. I don't want to act like them." I think we have a chance to show that we have better values than that.
This nation, like all nations, has our best selves and our worst selves, and this is a time that can call out either one -- call out what is the best in us and what is the worst. I think the stronger response, to deny them their victory -- if we just respond in kind -- we are in fact, giving them a victory. I don't them to win this. I want what they envision of the world to lose, I want to win with some better values.
I'm hoping that this test of our national character will drive us to -- I'm telling everybody -- to dig deep into our best, moral, spiritual, religious values and find out who we are as a people.
Contact Sojourners Magazine by calling (202) 328-8842 or visit their Web site and sign the sponse by clicking here: http://www.sojo.net/response/
Click here to endorse this response.
Scott Harris is WPKN Radio's public affairs director and executive producer of Between The Lines. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines, for the week ending Sept. 28, 2001.
Our deepest condolences to the victims, their families and all those who are suffering as a result of our nation's recent violent catastrophe. We pray that the global community will come together to work for peace and justice to overcome the cycle of violence and create a safer world for our children and generations to come.