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Keeping the Faith The Newsletter of the Interfaith Working Group
October 2001

Responses to Terror

We grieve with all who lost family and friends on September 11; our hearts also go out to those who have lost a sense of security or purpose because of the tragedy, and for the many people whose livelihoods are now at risk as well. The long-term ramifications are still unclear, but what is clear is that no one in this country--and possibly the rest of the world as well--will be unaffected by the events of September 11, 2001.

We believe that continuing our work is the best way for us to reject senseless violence, especially in a time of rage and insecurity, when there are those would turn religious and sexual minorities into scapegoats.

We recognize that the seemingly endless struggle for justice goes on regardless of September 11. A great deal occurred in the month preceding the attacks: a Florida judge ruled that the state had an interest in preventing gay men and lesbians from adopting children; a legislator was prevented from posting Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech in the courthouse in Alabama where the Ten Commandments are now prominently posted; legislative progress was made in California and Washington, DC toward gaining more rights for same-gender couples; a pastor and two parishioners were assaulted outside the Metropolitan Community Church of the Blue Ridge in Roanoke, VA; University Baptist Church of Austin, TX withdrew from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship over anti-gay policies; and the Atlanta Baptist Association's executive committee asked Oakhurst Baptist Church to reverse its Welcome and Affirming stance or leave the Association.

In this time when more people may feel the need for a spiritual home, we urge every house of worship to intentionally welcome those who may think they have no place to go. Also, if your congregation is interested in an accompaniment ministry to protect mosques and Muslims in the Philadelphia area, please call Richard Taylor (215-248-3178).

This newsletter consists largely of responses that have been made to the tragedy from organizations and individuals we often cite, and some of the controversy that has already been engendered by those responses. Links to the full text of most of the statements are available on the IWG web site. While there are common themes running through these statements, they represent only a small portion of the religious diversity of this country and the diverse thinking of religious Americans. We have not included any specific commentary on foreign policy, as we believe that is outside our mission.

The Falwell Controversy

During a September 13 appearance on Pat Robertson's 700 Club, Jerry Falwell blamed the ACLU for the tragedy and railed against federal court decisions "throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools." He also said, "The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad." He also blamed People For the American Way, pagans, abortionists, feminists, gays and lesbians for having "tried to secularize America." Robertson's response: "Well I totally concur and the problem is we have adopted their agenda at the highest levels of our government."

Falwell, Robertson and other Religious Right figures claimed for years that church/state separation, acceptance of religious and sexual minorities, and giving women control over their own bodies would result in the collapse of American society. This time their comments were met with harsh and immediate criticism from many sectors, though much of the reaction focused more on the timing rather than the content of their remarks.

Falwell tried several times to apologize, reiterating that he did not blame anyone but the terrorists, and that his comments were theological and taken out of context. A final apology on falwell.com was more apologetic in tone. Robertson issued a statement saying that he and the other hosts had not understood what Falwell was saying.

Al-Fatiha Foundation

Faisal Alam, director of Al-Fatiha, said: "We must not allow our fears and anger to overcome us. Religion has long been used as a tool of oppression against many communities including LGBT people, and the voices of peace and justice. But no religion at its core advocates violence or terrorism, including Islam." Al-Fatiha is an international organization of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Muslims and allies.

Rembert Truluck

In response to Rev. Falwell, author and web commentator Rembert Truluck said in part: The Supreme Court did not throw God out of the classroom in the school prayer ruling. Any informed intelligent person knows that the Court simply ruled that public school boards could not impose sectarian religion in any form on public schools. Homophobic abusive religionists have worked hard for years to misrepresent the decision of the Court and to break down the wall that rightly exists between church and state under the Constitution of the United States.


The Soulforce web site has responses to the September 11 attacks and to Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson from Mel White, plus a statement which says in part:

Each and every one of us is partially responsible for an environment and atmosphere that fosters alienation and superiority. Discrimination and verbal and physical abuse against individuals based on their race, religion, nationality, gender, ability, marital status, gender identity and sexual orientation takes place on a daily basis in this nation.

As we seek to discern the appropriate action to prevent this from occurring again, let us also take the time to reflect on the violence we can cause to one another as a result of our bigotry and fears, and make sure that we do not turn on each other in our anger.

We are all sisters and brothers, children of the same Divine Creator, neighbors living together on an ever-shrinking planet. Gandhi reminds us that if we demand an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, "the whole world will end up blind and toothless."

As we seek guidance to make sense of the acts against humanity on September 11, 2001, let us remember to be ever vigilant that we do not become what we abhor.

Reform Judaism

Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism said in part:

I have worked with Revs. Robertson and Falwell over the years. I have had opportunities to see them as pastors of great empathy and caring. To have failed so painfully to manifest those qualities at this time is deeply troubling. If this tragedy teaches us anything it is that it is time to stop the hate.

What would they say to the gay men and women who perished in this tragedy; to their families and loved ones? What would they say to the families of those who died who are supporters of civil liberties, America's cherished tradition of separation of church and state and those who are supporters of the right for a woman to choose? Does not the logic of their statements blame these victims and their families for their deaths? I cannot believe that this was their intent. I urge them to retract their statements immediately and to apologize to those whose unimaginable pain has been intensified by such remarks.

Rabbi Saperstein and Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations also issued a statement which said in part:

At times such as these--and we pray that there will no more such times--it is especially important that we behave with deliberation, lest trauma distort our actions. Specifically, we need to bear in mind that this conflict is between the United States and those who would see our way of life destroyed. It is not between some Americans and others. We must not allow this attack on America to divide Americans

We are concerned, in particular, with reports that some in our nation have directed their understandable anger at Tuesday's carnage at individual Arab Americans and Muslim Americans. We are outraged at reports of attacks on Arab Americans, Muslim Americans, and their mosques and businesses and condemn all such acts of lawlessness. Such attacks, such scapegoating, are deeply unAmerican. They also violate what is perhaps a preeminent lesson of Jewish history--the danger of group hatred, of imputing to a group the actions of a few individuals.

We know that like all Americans, Arab Americans and Muslim Americans overwhelming share our revulsion at the terrorist attacks, and our commitment to American values. We know that they, too, have family and friends injured or killed in the attacks, and our condolences go out to them, as to all who are grieving.

On Tuesday, evil was evident, but humanity will prevail. Since Tuesday, we have witnessed a remarkable outpouring of human kindness, as Americans instinctively insist that evil's victory would be limited and that we would not permit inhumanity to prevail. We believe, deeply and stubbornly, that goodness and kindness are more powerful than cruelty. We therefore call on all Americans in their interpersonal dealings, and especially in dealing with those rendered particularly vulnerable by these events, to be fully American--to act with kindness and with courtesy, to seek to express, as Lincoln put it, "the better angels of our nature."


Mary Louise Cervone, president and Marianne Duddy, executive director of Dignity/USA released a statement which begins:

Dignity/USA joins with all people of goodwill in expressing our shock and horror at the terrorist strikes against the US earlier this week. We extend our deepest sympathy to all of those who have lost people they love, or who are still waiting for word of the missing. In particular, we extend condolences to the loved ones of Fr. Mychal Judge, NY Fire Department Chaplain, who was a longtime member of Dignity, and to all our members and friends who have been directly impacted by these events. May those responsible be brought to justice under the law in the not too distant future.


In The Witches' Voice, cofounder Wren Walker wrote:

For any nation, for any people staring at the choices that the United States faces today, these serious considerations would present a set of serious challenges. And for any nation, for any people, these serious challenges would set faction against faction, liberal against conservative, hawk against dove, civil liberties against national security and religious beliefs against secular power. And in any nation these confrontations surely would cause a quite a ruckus, stir up the smoldering passions of old resentments and generally strain the very fiber of national identity and the commitment to the ideals of 'liberty and justice for all.'

But this is not just any nation. This is America. We cut our teeth on this stuff. We can disagree on political policy, fight over religious dogmas and creeds, squabble over budgets, book bans and social morals and at the same time remain steadfast in our declaration that we are one people and one nation. For Americans-and for all people anywhere in the world who hold liberty dear--it is simply the normal procedure that we go through, the normal discomfort that we bear and the normal price that we are willing to pay in order to remain free.

Reconstructionist Judaism

A "Statement from Leaders of the Reconstructionist Movement: On the Attack On America and the Coming High Holidays" said in part:

In shock and sorrow, we mourn with all Americans. We express our horror at the devastating loss of life and stand in solidarity and sympathy with the families of the dead and injured and with those awaiting news of loved ones. As Jews we believe that human beings are created b'tzelem Elohim, in the image of God; that each life is infinitely precious in the sight of God; and that each life lost diminishes God's presence in our world.

Tuesday's attack was a devastating assault on the values for which our country stands-freedom and democracy, justice, pluralism and tolerance. Yet the soul of America cannot be weakened by acts of terror, as long as we realize that the safety and security of every nation and individual lies in an affirmation and defense of freedom and democracy that extends to all peoples. In the wake of terror we need to be especially vigilant lest our understandable anger become a pretext for persecution or discrimination against any individual or group.

Together Americans of all backgrounds and faiths share grief and rage, and together we must seek justice. We cannot withdraw from the struggle for freedom; to do so would only strengthen the hands of those devoted to the destruction not only of America, but of what America stands for as well....

...As we approach the Jewish New Year, we ask: how can we shape that world for freedom and democracy? If we believe that God has no hands but ours, then the work of building a just world will require the efforts of each one of us. If God has no voice but ours, then human rights and justice are the messages we must speak. And if God has no heart but ours, then our integrity and commitment to sacred values must permeate our daily lives, as we seek to heal the world.

Family Research Council (FRC)

An email from the FRC's Ken Connor (9/13), to "Friends of Family Research Council" entitled "Heroes of Flight 93," said: "Americans are not rising up to defend the right to slaughter the unborn. They are not sacrificing their lives so homosexuals can marry. They are not paying the ultimate price so pornographers can peddle their smut." However, Connor's 9/17 email, entitled "A Bruised Reed He Will Not Break," said (evidently referencing Rev. Falwell): "This is no time, I believe, to further wound America's spirit, by casting blame on our fellow citizens. Scripture tells us that 'all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.' Singling out groups whose conduct offends us is not likely to bring about the national repentance that our country needs. It is more likely that such actions will simply polarize at a time when we are desperately in need of national unity." He also said: "If the attacks represented God's judgment on America for our national wrongdoing, how can we justify retaliation against the terrorists? Shouldn't our response be one of repentance rather than retaliation? Shouldn't we embrace our attackers as agents of God?"

Interfaith Alliance

The Interfaith Alliance and Interfaith Alliance Foundation issued a statement, which said in part:

Even though the great religious traditions of in our nation differ significantly, they do share a set of core values. Let us face into our fears, holding fast to those values. Such a posture will prevent the kind of dangerous stereotyping evidenced in despicable acts of hate and violence fomented upon Muslim and Islamic centers of worship in our land. Guidance from the sacred scriptures and oral traditions of our varied religions will keep us on a path characterized by respect for the dignity and worth of all people, appreciation of diversity, and a compassionate pursuit of community.

Unitarian Universalist Association

A letter from Unitarian Universalist Association President, Rev. William G. Sinkford said in part:

The terrorist attacks are being likened to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, a day that "will live in infamy." Pearl Harbor did galvanize this nation into action, and my hope is that this tragedy, too, will impel us to address the brokenness of our world that makes violence an imaginable solution. Remember also that Pearl Harbor led to the impounding and imprisonment of thousands of innocent Japanese Americans. There are Arab and Muslim communities in this country and around the world that grieve as we do, and fear as we do. I hope our congregations will reach out to those communities and stand with them.

Some Operational Changes

We have decided that it is no longer feasible to produce IWG events; we will focus on written materials and maintaining ties with other organizations/coalitions, while publicizing and participating in other groups' events. Eliminating events will help with our time/labor constraints, but could also reduce income (the concert was a major funding source). We will be more dependent on the kindness of congregations, individuals, and organizational grants for the continuation of our work. Tax deductible contributions under $1,000 may be sent to:
Interfaith Working Group
PO Box 11706
Philadelphia, PA, 19101









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