Lutheran Peace Fellowship

In a time of tragedy
Lutheran Peace Fellowship

Most of us are in shock as we mourn the death and trauma following the attacks caused by terrorists in New York and Washington DC. People's reactions span the extremes of emotion... powerlessness at the sheer scale of the tragedy, fear for the lives of loved ones, anger toward the perpetrators, numbness....

Our hearts go out to those caught in this tragedy and to their loved ones. We offer our deep-felt prayers for the victims and their families.

Responses by public officials and commentators to the tragedy have been dominated by strong talk: promises of revenge, assertions that this represents an attack on "freedom" and "our way of life," and comparisons with Pearl Harbor.

As Christians, committed to the way of Jesus, we feel that any response to terrorism and violence must recognize that we too, as individuals and as a country, live in a culture of violence, and all too often respond to violence or conflict with counter-violence. In addition to seeking out those responsible for the attacks and bringing them to justice, Lutheran Peace Fellowship believes that our response should include the following:

1. Genuine Peace: The best researchers and practitioners in the field of conflict resolution -- whether they work with gangs, domestic conflict, or violence between ethnic groups or nations -- insist that a lasting solution requires firm enforcement of the law. But above all, they stress the need to look for and address underlying causes.

Most guerrilla and terrorist groups claim legitimacy and support because of their efforts on behalf of an oppressed people. Alas, they find fertile ground to recruit that support among the many spurned ethnic groups and occupied territories, from East Timor to Afghanistan. If the US were to spend even a fifth as much on development assistance as we do on military responses to regional conflicts we could remove the grounds of support of terrorist groups. At present, the amount the U.S. spends on alleviating this key source of conflict in the world is less per person than any other industrialized nation, and far less than most US citizens believe we offer.

The horror of this massive terrorist targeting of civilians leads us to propose that the US government make explicit a commitment that we will refrain from targeting civilians in future responses to conflict, and invite other countries to join us in this commitment.

2. Emphasizing Tolerance: One lesson from the Oklahoma City tragedy is to refrain from demonizing Islam in the aftermath of this tragedy. Experts find more similarities than differences among radical
fundamentalist groups among the religions of the world whether Muslim, Jewish, or Christian. Radical Islamic groups no more represent Islam than White supremacists or those who bomb abortion clinics can be said to represent all of Christianity. We call on churches, teachers, and the media to do more to educate people about the widespread prejudice toward Muslims and people of Arab origin.

3. Truth and Reconciliation: The US has done many admirable things in the world: the Peace Corps, disaster relief, support for emerging democracies, are just a few examples. At some point, we in the US must do the hard work of examining the ways in which US policy over the years has helped sow the seeds for terrorism in the world in our support for brutal dictators in recent decades, e.g. the Shah of Iran, Pinochet in Chile, and Marcos in the Philippines (see appendix for additional examples).

If the democracy which some feel was threatened in this tragedy means anything, it means we have the right to examine our past and learn from it without fearing what we may find and without the kind of censorship (or self-censorship) that we would criticize in other countries.

4. In our personal life: This tragedy is a wake-up call for us as individuals and families to spend time examining the personal violence that resides too much in each of us. Nearly a half million people in the US and more than 74 million people world-wide have found a Pledge of Nonviolence useful in helping us to grow in our commitment to peacemaking in our day-to-day lives at work, in our families, at school, etc.

5. "We must wage peace with as much energy as others wage war" is the way a group of refugees in Kenya expressed the task which lies before us. As individuals and in our communities and nation, let us seek a world of genuine security through justice and cooperation rather than through escalation and retaliation. Let us strengthen the tools and resources of restorative justice and nonviolence, and re-examine our reliance on military strength and punitive methods, both abroad and in domestic policies.

"For the Children of the World" is the title of an appeal from twenty Nobel Peace Laureates which calls for a decade-long effort to "build a culture of peace and nonviolence" to replace the "culture of violence" that is the reality for "all too many children." The Appeal has been endorsed by the United Nations and thousands of citizen and government groups. We encourage schools, churches, and community groups in the US to becoming active in the Nobel Appeal and the UN Decade for Peace which offers an opportunity for the kind of sustained effort commensurate with the challenge of addressing violence in our communities and world. As the largest and most active constituency working on the Decade in the U.S., the churches have a particularly crucial potential for leadership.

Lutheran Peace Fellowship believes that only by actively pursuing nonviolence as articulated by Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesus, and others can we begin to overcome the violence in our world. Many believe in retaliation, but we all need to help people understand that the cycle of violence is what caused this tragedy today. Now is the time to renew our efforts for a peaceful and nonviolent world.

Glen Gersmehl is national coordinator of Lutheran Peace Fellowship.

For more information please contact Glen Gersmehl, Lutheran Peace Fellowship, 1710 11th Ave., Seattle, WA 98122 / 206-349-2501

Blinded by the Darkness
Three neglected stories of the post Sept. 11 world

Supplementary material on the Lutheran Peace Fellowship response

World Council of Churches Response to Terrorist Attacks in the USA

September 11, 2001 - Responding to our Children - ELCA division for higher education and schools
Resources for talking with children about the September 11 tragedy

Canadian Council of Churches Statement - September 21, 2001

The Challenge of Terror: A Traveling Essay - By John Paul Lederach

LPF contact info -