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Asking the clergy: How do you preach against all the violence in the world?

Almost daily, we hear about acts of horrific violence perpetrated in nations around the world as well as here at home. This week's clergy discuss how believers can appropriately respond to living in violent times.


Rabbi Marc A. Gruber, Central Synagogue of Nassau County, Rockville Centre:

I preach with a sense of justice and the core values of Judaism and with a sense of kindness and empathy for the victims of violence and then with an eye toward the systemic issues that need to be changed. At this season right now, the Jewish sensibility about remembering our own oppression throughout history, not just as slaves in the Exodus story, certainly leads me to a strong sense that we need to be among the first who speak out against violence in our society, and injustices that are founded in prejudice, rather than response rooted in behavior. I use the core values of Judaism that we learn from Scripture and rabbinic teachings. Rabbi Tarfon, a sage who lived from the latter part of the first century of the Common Era to the early part of the second century, said once violence has been let loose we cannot call it back and it strikes down one's father, one's mother, one's family members. We let the arrow go and there is no calling it back. Rabbi Tarfon lived under Roman oppression, and he lived in a time of extreme violence, including state-sponsored violence, and if he could speak out and urge us to behave with elements of justice, truth and kindness, then we who live in a democratic society should be able to do even more.


The Rev. William Brisotti, pastor, Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Roman Catholic Church, Wyandanch:

I suggest preaching first by action, which can lead to conversation that builds understanding and solidarity in service for the true common good. At a time of global religious intolerance, hatred and murder, our Catholic parish joined with two synagogues and a Muslim cultural center marking Holy Week and Passover by hosting a multi-faith, multicultural Seder. We relived the great story of liberation in a rather different setting, reflecting the cultural diversity of the Catholic congregation. Our Seder raised funds for our parish outreach, demonstrating that people of many religious and ethnic backgrounds can be what Dr. Martin Luther King called a "beloved community," respecting each other's traditions and differences while working together to help local people in need. Observance of our sacred traditions, rather than isolating us, as they usually do, can help us all to go beyond our differences and to see our common solidarity with all people, as children of the one God. From my Catholic tradition, I preach about the need to learn history, and what the light of the gospel can offer to make the world more human-friendly. As the noted 20th century Catholic theologian Father John L. McKenzie wrote: "If we cannot know from the New Testament that Jesus rejected violence absolutely, then we know nothing of Jesus' person or message. It is the clearest of themes." Nonviolence comes from a radical commitment to understand and forgive, as Jesus did.


The Rev. John Zenkewich, senior minister, Unity Church of Long Island, Garden City:

By preaching to the hope of all of us to live peaceful and happy lives and that we are meant to live in peace with one another, our members learn to live without fear in this world. In the story of Genesis we see that we are made in the image and likeness of God, and therefore are naturally good. Violence and mistreating of one another is actually an error of thought or perhaps a learned behavior. Violence is the result of the misjudgment of others and though we can't control it, we can control our response to it. We always have the opportunity to turn the other cheek as an affirmation of our spiritual truth. As Bishop Desmond Tutu taught my friend in South Africa, if she was unable to forgive the injustices done to her, she would still be living under apartheid in her own mind. We have heard many stories of people who have crimes committed against them or their family, and at the perpetrator's sentencing, family members have been able to speak of forgiving because they realize that forgiveness frees them to live, but does not release the perpetrator from the responsibilities of their actions. In Unity we pray and acknowledge that violence has no power over us and affirm our ability to create lives of safety, happiness and security. Jesus said "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." (John 10:10). He also said, "Peace be with you as the Father has sent me, so I send you." (John 20:21). We are meant to be peacemakers in the world.

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