Editor’s note: “Look Back” is a series designed to highlight articles from the Good Faith Media archives that remain relevant or historically interesting. If you have an article from our archives that you’d like us to consider including in this series, please email your suggestion to email@example.com. A version of this article first appeared at EthicsDaily.com on Sept. 13, 2001. At the time of publication, Mathews was communications director at the Baptist Center for Ethics.
In the wake of the heinous acts of terrorism against America, some are calling for swift retaliation, while others champion peace in place of further violence.
Peacemakers everywhere are responding quickly to the Sept. 11 tragedy by reminding people of all faiths that justice does not accommodate revenge.
“Vengeance and retaliation cannot be the answer to this situation,” the Fellowship of Reconciliation wrote in a statement. “But these persons should be brought to justice through legal means and the accepted standards of international law, not by the law of the jungle and collective punishment. Justice and peace are realized through just and peaceful means, for means and ends are interrelated.”
The Religious Society of Friends, the Quakers, said in a statement that “the challenge before us all is to break the cycle of violence and retribution.”
When many will be quick to judge, many Christian groups are challenging those of faith to “refrain from passing judgment.”
“We seek a deeper, spiritual message in these events–to find new commitment to our mission as Christians in our world–seeking the peace and salvation of all peoples,” wrote Jim Schrag, executive director of the Mennonite Church USA.
Susan Mark Landis, minister of peace and justice for the Mennonite Church, encouraged America’s leaders “to make decisions with reflection and deliberation” and “resist the upward spiraling of more violence.”
“We must remind ourselves that not only did Christian brothers and sisters suffer and die in these tragedies, but other Christians may from a violent response to this disaster,” Landis wrote.
John Oliver, professor emeritus of history at Malone College and coordinator of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship in North America, wrote in a statement that although the horror of the recent tragedy is great, “worse yet would be the decision to compound this tragedy by pursuing revenge in spades.”
“Now, as never before, it is time for Christians to attest a higher ethic that opens our eyes to the sacredness of all human life,” Oliver wrote. “I see this only dimly, not with the clear vision of saintly souls who have lost loved ones and, even now, pray for their enemies.”
Perhaps the ultimate weapon against such terrorism is the prayers of faithful people and the cross of Jesus Christ.
Baptist World Alliance’s general secretary, Denton Lotz, reminded Baptists in a statement that “as Baptists we are called upon to be peacemakers.”
“We call upon our people to pray and work for peace. We must never raise the sword,” Lotz wrote. “Our Lord commanded Peter and all of us to put back our swords and to take up our cross … we must preach Christ and His cross.”
Catholic peacemakers also fear “the nation’s grief will turn to rage for revenge,” according to a statement released by Pax Christi USA, the national Catholic peace movement. Pax Christi USA urged Americans to follow the nonviolent example of Jesus.
Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), a program of Brethren, Quaker and Mennonite Churches, also charged Americans to “renew our commitment to walking in Jesus’ way of nonviolence.”
“The Biblical injunction to ‘love your enemies’ (Matthew 5:44-45) is often deemed ‘unrealistic,’” wrote CPT. “It is certainly ‘unrealistic’ to think we can successfully seal off an entire country to terrorist attacks. Indeed, our most realistic hope for safety comes from working to make sure that everyone in the world community is treated fairly and being just as willing to give our lives in pursuit of loving the enemy as the terrorists were willing to give their lives to kill the enemy.”
CPT urged supporters to respond to the tragedy in prayer and “creative nonviolence,” suggesting a “prayer walk” through local communities.
In response to the terrorism, the Rev. Jim Wallis of Call to Renewal and Sojourners, the Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson of the Reformed Church of America, Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Dr. Bob Edgar of the National Council of Churches and Dr. Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action signed a statement challenging Americans to deny the terrorists their victory.
“The terrorists have offered us a stark view of the world they would create, where the remedy to every human grievance and injustice is a resort to the random and cowardly violence of revenge–even against the most innocent,” read the statement. “But we can deny them their victory by refusing to submit to a world created in their image.”
“We assert the vision of community, tolerance, compassion, justice, and the sacredness of human life, which lies at the heart of all our religious traditions,” the statement continued. “It is especially important that our citizens who share national origins, ethnicity, or religion with whoever attacked us are, themselves, protected among us.”