April 4, 2002
An Appeal to the Clergy of All Faiths
Colleagues in faith, we must act together now. We owe it to our respective faiths and our common calling. We cannot feign blindness or muteness while all about us the toxins of racial and religious hate and the anarchy of anthrax continue to poison our environment. Lethal libels against entire people and religions in the name of God threaten not only our generation but our children's generation. Mounting verbal vilification is as perilous as the casualties of the wars.
What does our religious conscience demand of us? We are not generals. We are not politicians nor diplomats. But we are spiritual leaders of world religions, and we have a mandate to use our moral powers to stanch the hemorrhaging of our civilization. What wisdom have we inherited from our respective religions, and what can we do?
Our spiritual ancestry is rooted in the prophet. In each of our traditions, the prophet is venerated for the courageous word hurled against power. For us, the word is not straw. With the word, the world was created. With the prophetic word, the steely armor of the predators has been pierced. At this moment in history, the word is sacred, and silence is blasphemous. Silence condones.
Now is the time for the prophetic voice to be heard in every mosque, synagogue and church. To muzzle the voice against terrorism, homicidal suicide and the defamation of God's name imprinted on every human being is to commit acts of fatal muteness. Surely, injustice exists, but as Pope John Paul II recently declared, "Injustice cannot be used to excuse acts of terrorism." Man is a rationalizing animal who manages to camouflage slander, racism, and anti-Semitism beneath the robes of piety.
Today, more than ever, it is the third commandment admonishing us not to abuse the name of God that is blatantly violated. When today religions are held hostage to militant political parties, it is our duty to rip aside the false mask that conceals militant malevolence. God's name must not be desecrated.
The prophet does more than confront and chastise. The prophet has a crucial task to perform, even while the warring goes on. The prophetic God is to prepare the heart, for "the preparation of the heart is made by man."(Proverbs 16:6)
Sooner or later, the violence will cease, whether out of mutual exhaustion or external imposition. In any event, people will have to live together; wounds must be healed, and relations normalized. We priests, rabbis, imams must follow the prophet's cry in the wilderness. "Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God." We must together today cultivate a spiritual ambience that will encourage the building of trust among ourselves and our congregants. The task of the clergy of all faiths is to struggle against the paranoia that has seized us and whose mantra is "suspect thy neighbor as thyself." Confidence-building is critical in these parlous times.
What can we do? We who believe in the power of the word and the sanctity of the dialogue must bring our people together. We can exchange pulpits, arrange for our congregants to meet with each other in their private homes, and thereby discover the face of humanity behind the veil of theology. In meeting, a pre-theological reality is revealed. We do not have the same language or the same dogma, but we have the same tears and the same fears. The caskets may be draped with different symbols, but the broken hearts of the widow and the forlornness of the orphan are the same. That sameness the prophet proclaimed when he asked, "Have we not all one God, one Father? Has not one God created us all? Why do we profane the covenant of our fathers by breaking faith with our brother?" (Malachi 2:10)
We spiritual leaders must not be intimidated by those who dismiss dialogue as mere rhetoric or by those who attack us, the ingatherers of people of other faiths, as naive or as traitors to their extremist causes.
Together we can counter the insidious cynicism that insists that war is inevitable and hatred immutable. We can restore the promise of the prophet Isaiah who in a critical time held out the hope that in the future, "Israel will be a third with Egypt and Syria," and who in God's name pronounces an embracing benediction: "Blessed be Egypt My people and Syria the work of My hand and Israel My possession." (Isaiah 19:24, 25)
We can preach against the grain of our polarizing society and raise up from obscurity the wisdom and compassion in our respective sacred texts. Let the Surah 2:257 in the Quran be publicized: "Let there be no compulsion in religion." "To everyone have we given a law and a way, and if Allah would have pleased to, he would have made all mankind one people. But he has done otherwise." (Surah 5:48) Let us bless our pluralism and His will.
What can we do? We can organize "trialogues" of Christian, Jewish and Muslim spiritual leaders throughout the country, not to debate the borders of territories but the wholeness of humanity beyond borders. We can educate the congregations to avoid the trap of monistic thinking. Not all Muslims are the same; not all Christians are the same; not all Jews are the same. Our faiths are not monolithic. There are, for example, those like the most prominent Muslim leader in Indonesia, the world's most populated Muslim country, Nurcholish Madjid, who celebrates unity in diversity and who writes of the "many doors to God."
We clergy of all faiths are endowed with the power to transform the spiritual atmosphere of our environment so that peace can have a chance. In the language of the prophet, God calls to those who believe: "You are My witnesses, says the Lord." (Isaiah 43:10) The rabbinic sages interpret this divine imperative conditionally. "If you are My witnesses, I am God. But if you are not My witnesses, I am, as it were, not God." We must not betray the call.