Every time there’s a shooting in our city the Wilmington Peace Keepers pray at a street corner near where a victim was killed or wounded. At these gatherings Peace Keepers share appropriate readings from the Bible and the Koran and pray together. Leaders choose passages that speak to the needs of grieving families and friends, and bolster the community’s striving for a culture of peace .
For centuries the children of Abraham have been a quarrelsome lot, both among themselves and between the three major branches of a growing family: first Judaism, then Christianity, and finally Islam. In the sacred writings of each one can find expressions of anger and resentment toward outsiders, but also expressions of forgiveness and charity for the stranger; sometimes, even charity for enemies. Regarding peacemaking, what one finds of value in the Hebrew scriptures or the Christian scriptures or the Koran depends in large part on where one looks, and through what lens. It’s often easy for religious adherents to overlook the negative passages in their own sacred scriptures because they read through a lens of reverence and admiration, whereas outsiders aggrieved by persecution are likely to read through a critical or even a cynical one.
A recent article in the Wilmington News Journal reported that on the day that a Muslim imam was invited to open our state’s Senate with prayer and a reading from the Koran, two senators protested, arguing that he represented a religion which has proven itself hostile to our nation. They were, of course, associating him with religious fanatics who plot violence, but this was a quite unreasonable connection. Without even bothering to listen to him they allowed a lens of fear to preclude a much more informed understanding. This is lamentable not only for their own sake, but also for the protection of our homeland, for a resilient democracy depends on civility, and civility requires a willingness to listen.
This incident poses an important moral challenge for faithful people, namely, how does one tell the morally helpful passages from the morally unhelpful ones in one’s own sacred texts; and assuming one can do that, how does that change the way one uses his or her holy book? Thomas Jefferson took scissors to his Bible, cutting out anything that seemed to contradict the teachings of Jesus. Is this a defensible response to the challenge? George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, was weary of arguments between Christians of his day, each supported by Bible verses. He is reported to have preached: “You will say, ‘Christ saith this, and the apostles say this;’ but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of the Light, and hast thou walked in the Light, and what thou speakest, is it inwardly from God?”
It seems to me that if people of faith are to find common ground it cannot be based on this or that passage from any scripture, but rather, from that inner light to which Fox referred. I can admire and quote wisdom from traditions other than my own, and sometimes do, but my basis for doing so is not that they invoke an authorized text, but rather that they bespeak a truth already perceived by inner light. That inner light, it seems to me, is the paramount moral source for interfaith peacemakers; and it is what I had in mind when I called our Delaware interfaith group “Many Candles, One Light.”