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Interfaith group asks faith-rooted response to terrorism


NEW YORK (UMNS) -- As a week of national shock and grief moved into its fourth day, more than 100 American religious leaders of all major faith groups - including Christian, Jewish and Muslim -- released a comprehensive statement on terrorism that recommends a resolute response guided by the wisdom of religious faith.

Signers, who gave their personal endorsement, include the heads of denominations, national and regional religious organizations and parachurch groups; local pastors and rabbis; and theologians and professors from all parts of the nation.

The statement offers words of consolation to the families of the victims, and an appeal for "sober restraint" to citizens reeling in the wake of Tuesday's terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington; and the related crash of a hijacked jetliner in Pennsylvania.

"Let us deny them (the terrorists) their victory by refusing to submit to a world created in their image," the signers argue, adding: "We must not allow this terror to drive us away from being the people God has called us to be." The message also warns that innocent Americans who share the terrorists' ethnicity, national origin or religion should be protected from indiscriminate reprisal or acts of violence.

Terming the aftermath of the attacks a "test of national character," the statement calls for citizens to rededicate themselves to the vision of "community, tolerance, compassion, justice and the sacredness of human life, which lies at the heart of all our religious traditions."

The document, issued Sept. 13, was developed in consultation with Jewish, Muslim and Christian clergy, and circulated for signature by the Rev. Jim Wallis, Call to Renewal and Sojourners; the Rev. Robert W. Edgar, National Council of Churches; the Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, Reformed Church of America; Rabbi David Saperstein, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; and the Rev. Ron Sider, Evangelicals for Social Action.

They invited others to join them in personally endorsing the document, and more than 100 responded within the first 24 hours. Other names are being added and an amended list of signers will be released later.

President George W. Bush designated Sept. 14 as a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance, and the nation's leaders gathered for a service at the National Cathedral in Washington.

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NOTE: Information for this story was provided by the communications office of the National Council of Churches.

The full statement follows:


We, American religious leaders, share the broken hearts of our fellow citizens. The worst terrorist attack in history that assaulted New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania, has been felt in every American community. Each life lost was of unique and sacred value in the eyes of God, and the connections Americans feel to those lives run very deep. In the face of such a cruel catastrophe, it is a time to look to God and to each other for the strength we need and the response we will make. We must dig deep to the roots of our faith for sustenance, solace, and wisdom.

First, we must find a word of consolation for the untold pain and suffering of our people. Our congregations will offer their practical and pastoral resources to bind up the wounds of the nation. We can become safe places to weep and secure places to begin rebuilding our shattered lives and communities. Our houses of worship should become public arenas for common prayer, community discussion, eventual healing, and forgiveness.

Second, we offer a word of sober restraint as our nation discerns what its response will be. We share the deep anger toward those who so callously and massively destroy innocent lives, no matter what the grievances or injustices invoked. In the name of God, we too demand that those responsible for these utterly evil acts be found and brought to justice. Those culpable must not escape accountability. But we must not, out of anger and vengeance, indiscriminately retaliate in ways that bring on even more loss of innocent life. We pray that President Bush and members of Congress will seek the wisdom of God as they decide upon the appropriate response.

Third, we face deep and profound questions of what this attack on America will do to us as a nation. The terrorists have offered us a stark view of the world they would create, where the 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 into 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. Terrorism inflicts not only death and destruction but also emotional oppression to further its aims. We must not allow this terror to drive us away from being the people God has called us to be. We assert the vision of community, tolerance, compassion, justice, and the sacredness of human life, which lies at the heart of all our religious traditions. America must be a safe place for all our citizens in all their diversity. It is especially important that our citizens who share national origins, ethnicity, or religion with whoever attacked us are, themselves, protected among us.

Our American illusion of invulnerability has been shattered. From now on, we will look at the world in a different way, and this attack on our life as a nation will become a test of our national character. Let us make the right choices in this crisis - to pray, act, and unite against the bitter fruits of division, hatred, and violence. Let us rededicate ourselves to global peace, human dignity, and the eradication of injustice that breeds rage and vengeance.

As we gather in our houses of worship, let us begin a process of seeking the healing and grace of God.

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