To Ministers, Religious Educators, Musicians and Administrators: People of Faith Respond to September 11, 2001
October 11, 2001
A full month has passed since September 11. You have ministered and served so well, and the Unitarian Universalist Association's (UUA's) staff has worked hard to support you. In my own work, pride in our faith's response buoyed me and a sense of near normalcy had arrived prior to last Sunday. As I heard reports of our bombing of Afghanistan, I realized that I had been holding my breath, knowing there was more to come, emotionally unable to move forward until the shape of our national response had at least an outline. Now we are called to minister and serve. Yet again.
I need to acknowledge that forming my own opinion has been far from easy. Like all of you I long for peace. But I also must own my anger and the desire to strike back. Like many of you I believe some response is appropriate. But with a son in the army, I have a parent's impossible wish that no bombs fall while he is in uniform, and a yearning for a peaceful resolution.
In the hope that it might be helpful to you, I want to share some of the concerns that I find myself worrying about during these long days and longer nights.
I worry that the language of justice is being used to describe a war fought with our most sophisticated weapons. Can there ever be a "humanitarian" war? There are human beings on the ground in Afghanistan, not merely targets.
I worry that more innocent people are dying, though now a half a world away, and I am moved to call all of us to hold them and their loved ones in our thoughts and prayers. They, too, are our brothers and sisters.
I still worry about the profiling of Arab and Arab-looking Americans, and know that harassment of Arab, Muslim and Sikh communities continues. There is continuing need for solidarity with these communities.
I fear deeply that our military response will lead to further violence, that our use of force will not only produce more attacks, but will also allow some to deepen their belief that it is we who are evil.
I am concerned about the increasing numbers of refugees and the overwhelming hunger in Central Asia. It is easy to see our country's dropping of food as propaganda, designed only to make us appear caring.
But most of all, I am concerned that we are not yet having the right national conversation. I believe that the justice we should seek is restoration, not retribution. We can never restore the lives that have been lost, but we can work for restoration that can break the cycle of violence and inequity that has victimized people for generations.
The right conversation, for me, does include punishment for the criminals who slaughtered innocent people, but it does not stop there. It also asks what conditions allowed people to see the United States as an evil empire. We must remember that, to those who perpetrated the attacks of September 11, their actions were not lunatic; they made sense. It asks what role we had in creating that perception. And it calls on our national leaders to remain at the table, attempting to move toward restoration of the multiple issues of justice so that a lasting peace can be found.
To offer additional resources that I hope can be of use, I am posting an excellent analysis of the UUA's relevant resolutions, prepared by Rob Cavenaugh of our Washington Office. These are official statements of the Association, affirmed by a number of General Assemblies over our 40-year history, which illuminate our positions on some of the key issues involved in this discussion. I plan to ask the UUA Board to join me in re-affirming these resolutions.
We are being called upon. Yet again. I hope this letter is of some help as, together, we find our way through this global crisis. President Bush tells us that this will be a long war and that seems shockingly likely. Our commitments call us to minister to and serve our faith and you do that so well. Please remember to care for yourselves and one another. We will all need the support of this community to weather this storm in the days and weeks ahead.
William G. Sinkford