Nearly 15 years ago, I traveled to Pakistan as part of a religious leaders’ peace delegation in the wake of the tragic events of 9/11. Our purpose was to share the news that not all Christians believed the appropriate response to the attacks on the United States was to wage war on other nations.
We wanted to visit Afghanistan, but by that time American bombs were falling there and it was too dangerous to travel to Kabul. So, one of our actions was to distribute food and blankets in the city of Quetta to Afghan refugees who had fled to Pakistan. Some of those refugees had been living in Pakistan since the Soviet invasion of 1979.
Along the way, went to the historic city of Lahore. While we were checking into our hotel, the manager assured us the city was safe. Thusly comforted, I decided to go on a walk and see some of the sights. Keep in mind, this was at the same time that the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was being held hostage in Pakistan.
Suddenly, a minivan stopped next to me and several men jumped out. My heart sank. One asked if I was on my way to visit Bishop Samuel Azariah.
“Yes,” I nervously replied.
“Please come with us, we were sent to pick you up.”
“How did you find me,” I asked.
“That was easy,” they said. “Everyone pointed us to the tall American.”
Foolishness on my part? Perhaps. Yet, curiously, I mostly felt that countless strangers were looking out for me. I have had rebel bandit guns pointed at me in Nigeria and Israeli weapons trained on me in Ramallah. In both places, Christian hosts stood by me. I have not attempted to live dangerously, but I have also sought to avoid cowering in fear.
I can very well understand how easy it is to succumb to the notion that our Christian faith is under siege and that we must, therefore, strike back or patrol Muslim neighborhoods, secure our borders, or carpet bomb certain parts of the world. It is tempting to circle the wagons, root out enemies, and start firing away.
I cannot imagine attending an Easter sunrise service or picnic where a bomb exploded, 72 people died, and a terrorist organization claims credit for the murders. I do desire for there to be a coordinated, international police effort to capture terrorists and break up their organizations. What I do not want is for the police to utilize torture, disregard legal procedures, or spy on everyone. I believe it is false to claim that it is necessary to do so.
Unfortunately, it is likely that terrorism will continue throughout my lifetime. People of faith must not only continue to speak against terrorism and pray for the victims, we must also continue to work together, undertake self-scrutiny, develop a culture of peace, and work creatively for truth and reconciliation.
This type of work is already underway. The Washington Interreligious Staff Community held its annual retreat on March 30. A full house of Jewish, Christian and Muslim denominations and organizations were represented. Dozens of talented, committed people–diverse in every way–shared about our joint work against racism and poverty and our bipartisan efforts to overcome climate change and mass incarceration.
The National Council of Churches will remain committed to peace, justice, and interreligious dialogue and cooperation. May God be with us.