Pastor’s Friday Comments (08.09.19)

In response to the tragic mass shootings of this past week, I and the other members of the Johns Creek Interfaith Alliance issued the following joint statement:

August 7, 2019

Dear friends,

We, the members of the Johns Creek Interfaith Alliance, a group of clergy and religious leaders representing houses of worship in Johns Creek, Georgia, express our deepest sorrow at the news of the shootings this past week in Gilroy, CA, El Paso, TX,  and Dayton, OH. These horrific acts of violence are, tragically, only the latest in a long line of acts of violence and terror, coming from a place of hate and prejudice, that have afflicted places of public gathering, schools, businesses, churches, mosques, and synagogues.

In the Hebrew Bible, we read: “I called on your name, O Lord, from the depths of the pit. You heard my plea: ‘Do not close your ears to my cry for relief.’ You came near when I called you and you said, ‘Do not fear'” (Lamentations 3:55-57).

The New Testament recalls the teaching of Jesus who said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:36-40).

The Quran teaches us that “whoever kills a soul…it is as if he had slain humankind entirely, and whoever saves one, it is as if he had saved humankind entirely” ( 5:32).

It is our belief that because our trust in God is a major part of the equation in bringing good into the world, we must be partners, not only in belief but also in action. This action is based upon our partnership with each other to be good, do good, and bring about goodness. For only if we take an active role in bringing healing and not harm into the world, will we be able to truly “love our neighbors as ourselves.”  It is through this love that we will truly be able to bring peace to creation, spread the message of hope and justice that our traditions teach, and work to see a day when all people will understand that each individual is created by and loved by God. It is through this love that we will be able to ascend from the pit and truly not fear.

May God comfort the mourners and bring healing to the wounded.  Let us truly work together for the day when all of humankind can be saved from violence and hate.  And as we offer this prayer, we call on our civic leaders as well as each individual to work for a day when we will no longer have to feel the scourge of violence in our communities.  

With peace,

The Johns Creek Interfaith Alliance

-Rabbi Jordan M. Ottenstein, RJE

-Mr. Naeem Mulla

-Reverend Brian Daoust

-David Brewer, PhD

-Reverend Dr. Shaun King

-Reverend David White

-Mr. Tareef Saeb

-Reverend Dr. James King

-Reverend Dr. Gray Norsworthy

-Reverend Neal Kuhlhorst

-Imam Wali Allah Khan

There was a strong consensus within the group that we needed to make such a statement and that this was just the first step in a process to which all of us are committed. We must do all we can to create a community where all are welcome and where all are safe. This alliance of ministers from different faiths is determined to join with anyone who has similar goals in working for peace.

We acknowledged that this joint statement was as broad as we could make it while maintaining the integrity of our own faith traditions and while avoiding any partisan political postures. I expect that all of us will be making further comments to our own families of faith, and here is my first, tentative, attempt at that.

It is imperative, especially for people of faith, to offer thoughts and prayers for families of victims. As Christians we believe that these acts not only express our hopes for those who suffer, but that they also are petitions to God that the suffering might be eased.

However, we must also insist that this should never be perfunctory, for political purposes, or as a sole approach to tragedy. Something substantive must be done to stop the violence. If you want to read a scathing critique of those who only offer thoughts and prayers when they are in a position to do so much more, I commend to you the commentary by Arkansas circuit judge and pastor Wendell Griffen. I agree wholeheartedly with his position, but he said it much better than I could.

And as we urge those in positions of power to act in righteous ways to bring peace to our country and an end to the violence that we face, let us pray for all who seek to lead, in whatever capacity. Their jobs are more difficult than any of us can imagine. Remember that we can pray for God’s direction on a person’s life without simultaneously endorsing that person’s policies or actions.

Just one more observation (for now): Words matter. They should never be thrown around recklessly and without consideration of the impact they have — whether for good or ill. Our cultural rhetoric these days is filled with hatred, divisiveness, and the denigration of anyone who is different from ourselves. Make no mistake: There is a direct line from hateful words to hateful actions. 

One cannot claim innocence if others are motivated by what we express. And the more people are willing to listen to your voice, the more responsible you must be in the words you choose to utter. It is wrong to use words to incite and plead for peace at the same time, whether you are a politician, a preacher, or the guy at the water cooler.  All who lead or aspire to lead must recognize that their words make a difference. (And if you believe that there is a moral equivalence between the rhetoric being used by all people in positions of leadership, you clearly do not have a grasp of the English language.) Some things must change, and that change can begin with the way we talk.

For Christians this should be a matter of personal concern. Jesus said that it wasn’t what goes into us that defiles us but what comes out (Matthew 15:11). As we all know, there is only one person whose language, attitudes, and actions we can control. But we need to understand, we must do all we can to make that person as close to the image of our Savior, the Prince of Peace, as possible.