SEABROOK SAYS: Mark Epstein is brilliant – and a superb writer. He has been a very active member of the Interfaith Trialogue (a group of Christians, Jews and Muslims in Gaston County) for many years. Read with interest his thought-provoking words. NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?
A Tri-Faith Open Letter to Our Fellow Citizens of Gaston County
Whereas recently and all too often we are witness to senseless tragedies in the name of religious faith, we the undersigned and many others issue this statement to calm, to ease fear, and bring us closer to a world filled with love and peace, where swords have been bent into plowshares, and the lion has laid down with the lamb. To this end we proclaim, and hope all will likewise proclaim, that WE:
- Believe that faith in God gives purpose and meaning to human life, and is a force for good in the world; that all people are created in God’s image and thus equally deserving of human dignity.
- Hold that God’s greatest desire is for his creation to live in joy and peace, with forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
- Understand that evil exists in the world, but believe God extended to humankind grace and the ability to discern right and wrong, to be used in the pursuit of righteousness, to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with Him.
- Acknowledge that although fear may at times draw close, it should not and need not govern us, and we will not be bound by it. It is within our human capacity to transcend and overcome fear, from which too often anger, discord, and spiritual weakness inevitably flow. It is together, resolute in cooperation and not divided in fear, that we will prevail over those who wish us harm.
- Hold that Truth of Holy Scripture does not mean its most difficult, even violent, language and passages are a prescription for violence today, nor arrogance of faith, nor demagoguery, nor disdain of other faith traditions.
- Reject and disavow violence in the name of God or select scripture, or to advance one’s faith and precepts. WE JOIN OUR MUSLIM COMMUNITY IN RENOUNCING ALL SUCH VIOLENCE.
- Yet recognize the unfortunate fact that any faith tradition will have its misguided fringe, unrepresentative of and rejected by nearly all of its worldwide adherents.
- Affirm and embrace timeless American values: Liberty, Life, Inclusiveness, Religious Freedom, the democratically-established Rule of Law, and urge all to stand by them no matter how difficult our challenges.
- Embrace and rededicate our lives to the universal ethics of our traditions: Justice, Kindness, Good Conduct, Charity to care for the least amongst us. Conversely, our traditions commonly hold that God forbids injustice, immorality and oppression.
- Affirm that our traditions each embrace God’s most important directives: to love Him, to love our neighbor, and also to love the stranger. We thus oppose any effort at discrimination – socially, religiously, or politically – directed towards any faith tradition.
- Are grateful to the men and women of all races, ethnicities, religious backgrounds who work tirelessly and often at risk to their own lives, to protect our freedoms and liberties.
- Issue a call for Interfaith dialogue, understanding, and acceptance – for when people of good will gather together in the study of scripture, God is present among them. And as it enriches each other and our community, it is the same as enriching the whole world.
With these avowals, we and many more are proud to call Gaston County home, and a beacon and stronghold of interfaith diversity and strength. We join hands to put aside fear, to engage and make our corner of the world better, and to continue our daily work of bringing peace on earth and good will toward all men and women.
Members and Friends of the Gaston County Interfaith Trialogue
(Meeting for 14 years with the purpose of fostering understanding and harmony among the three Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam)
- Dr. Mark Epstein, Temple Emanuel, Gastonia
- Charles Gray, First United Methodist Church, Gastonia
- Sam Shoukry, Islamic Society of Gastonia
- Rev. Sydnor Thompson, Myers Memorial Methodist Church Gastonia
- Charles Brown, Temple Emanuel, Gastonia
- Rafat Hamam, Islamic Society of Gastonia
- Rev. David Christy, First United Methodist Church
- Hassan Ebrahim, Islamic Society of Gastonia
- Bill Gross, Temple Emanuel, Gastonia
- Rev. T. Steven Bolton, ret.
- Mark Hanna, Trinity United Methodist Church
- Linda Gibbons, Queen of the Apostles Catholic Church, Belmont
- Rev. Richard Boyce, Union Presbyterian Seminary
- Jason Shiflet, First Presbyterian Church Gastonia
- Cindy Buckley, Queen of Apostles Catholic Church, Belmont
- Rev. Joan Martin, Gastonia
- Cam Tracy, Queen of the Apostles Catholic Church, Belmont
- Chuck Duncan, First Associated Reformed Presbyterian Church, Gastonia
- Rev. Vic Wilfong, Covenant & Trinity United Methodist Churches
- Dr. Bob Blake, First Presbyterian Church, Gastonia
- Sally Williams, Queen of Apostles Catholic Church, Belmont
- Andi Brymer, The Christian Church Disciples of Christ, Gastonia
- Geof & Judy Planer, First Presbyterian Church, Gastonia
- Steve Knight, Open Hearts Gathering Disciples of Christ
- Jeremy Whitener, Open Hearts Gathering Disciples of Christ