Many Christian congregations have the practice of having worshippers pass the peace of Christ to each other during worship services. It’s a beautiful gesture even if it can sometimes feel a little contrived. Last Sunday, September 21 was United Nations International Day of Peace and our congregation has a tradition of recognizing the Sunday closest to this date as Peace Sunday. How does greeting each other with a blessing of peace, especially on Peace Sunday, inform our worship, who we are as individuals, and how we relate to others?
When we put this Sunday on our church calendar as Peace Sunday, we had no idea that President Obama would, in so many words, declare war on ISIS, the radical Islamist insurgency in Syria and Iraq. As a nation, we have become so weary of eternal war in the Middle East. When will it ever end!
It was so unfortunate that our country responded the terrorist attack of 9/11 by going to war rather than treating it as the heinous criminal offense it was. We then compounded that mistake by going to war against Iraq even though they had nothing to do with the 9/11 attack. Now twelve years later we’re facing perpetual war in the Middle East with no end in sight. It has become by far the longest war in our nation’s history.
I have recently been writing on interfaith relations and I’m acutely aware that this war is an enormous interfaith issue. This week I received a statement from the Institute of Islamic and Turkish Studies, our neighbors here in Fairfax, condemning the horrible atrocities carried out by the ISIS group in Syria and Iraq. They wrote:
“Islam is a religion of peace. It forbids the injury of innocents, in particular women, children, the elderly, and even of crops, trees, natural resources, and property. The example of Prophet Muhammad, God’s peace and blessing be upon him, is the example of tolerance, patience, forgiveness, mercy, kindness, and altruism, even to those who would seek to oppress or harm, in the hope of changing hearts and minds not by words but by example.”
People of all religious traditions struggle with the wide gap between their faith values and the behavior of some who claim to be acting in the name of their religion. Furthermore, we all struggle with the commonly made distinction between the so-called legitimate violence of state actors and the violence of insurgent groups such as ISIS. I will allow my Muslim friends to respond to these challenges in their faith community.
I’m keenly aware that the same challenges exist in my Christian faith tradition, including unspeakable acts of violence in our Scriptures, purportedly carried out in the name of God. I’m further aware of the violence carried out through the centuries by those who claim to be Christians. In my next blog post, I will speak more directly to the violence in our Christian faith tradition.