Magazine article The Christian Century

Believers Strive to Stem Violence

Magazine article The Christian Century

Believers Strive to Stem Violence

Article excerpt

PRESIDENT CLINTON drew praise recently from a group of nearly 50 religious leaders for his call to U.S. faith groups to play a central role in ending the cycle of violence in the nation's cities. The religious leaders indicated in a letter to the president that they were "particularly encouraged" by his call to a personal moral renewal--without which, they said, all external policies, such as gun control, will fail. We want to convey to you our own commitment to continue to mobilize our respective religious communities to combat . . . violence and moral decline," the leaders declared.

The letter, whose signers include prominent Jewish, Muslim, Protestant and Roman Catholic officials, was sent to Clinton December 15 but was not made public by the signers until January 7. In the late fall Clinton began focusing on the nation's crime problem, and in a series of speeches and statements--most notably at a November convention of the Church of God in Christ in Memphis--challenged the religious community to play a more central role in fighting violence.

"Indeed, Mr. President, throughout America, the religious community has been struggling with this most pressing of problems," the leaders said, citing a number of initiatives from such groups as the Congress of National Black Churches and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. For their part, the religious spokespersons told Clinton that the faith community's effort would focus on "continuing to proclaim, teach and call our people to practice the ethical values and virtues which provide the basis for real community and a moral life." Talk about "personal moral renewal" the practice of virtues is notable coming from mainline church officials--officials who have in recent decades tended to address crime and other social ills largely in terms of social structures and systems. "The battle against violence begins in each of our hearts and lives," the religious leaders asserted, adding, "Religious faith offers vital moral resources for replacing fear and violence with hope and reconciliation in our homes, communities and nation."

The signers did not shrink from the task of confronting social causes of violence, however. The leaders said they would continue to fight for a halt to the proliferation of guns and work to counter what they called the "culture of violence" that pervades the nation's culture and media and "that legitimizes-even celebrates-violence as a means of dispute resolution." They vowed to work for "effective, responsive, equitable law enforcement" and to provide young people with "options for healthy development through private action and public policies that promote ample education, strong social programs, and real job opportunities."

Among the many signers of the letter were James Andrews, stated clerk of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); Dawoud Assad, president, Council of Mosques of U.S.A., Inc.; Joan Brown Campbell, general secretary, National Council of Churches; Herbert Chilstrom, bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Milton Efthimiou, ecumenical officer, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America; Richard Hamm, president, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); Bernice Powell Jackson, executive director, Commission or Racial Justice, United Church of Christ; T. J. Jemison, president, National Baptist Convention; Leonid Kishkovsky, ecumenical officer, Orthodox Church in America; Syngman Rhee, president, National Council of Churches; Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president, Union of American Hebrew Congregations; Cecil Sherman, coordinator, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship; Paul Sherry, president, United Church of Christ; Melvin Talbert, secretary, Council of Bishops, United Methodist Church; and Sheldon Zimmerman, president, Central Conference of American Rabbis. …

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