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Religious Statement Calls For Peace, Justice, Unity


The message is not new. Tolerance and neighborly love are topics religions have preached for centuries.
But after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and in light of the upcoming Winter Games, members of Utah's religious faiths say the call for compassion, peace and unity means more today than at any other time in U.S. history.
With that in mind, 70 members of 15 faiths signed a statement of solidarity and called on Utahns on Tuesday to "move forward from this crisis to a time of unity, justice and peace to bring compassion and healing to all people of all nations."
Some of the signatories -- which include members of the Utah Islamic Society, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, United Methodist Church, Utah Friends Fellowship, the Baha'i Community, Sikh Dharma of Utah and Buddhist community -- gathered at the Khadeeja Mosque in Salt Lake City exactly three weeks after the attacks.
The Rev. David Randle of the Utah United Religions Initiative, which organized the gathering, urged that the community abide by the Golden Rule.
"It's so easy to fall into stereotypes. 'Islamic terrorist' has almost become one word," Randle said. "It is not Islam that is doing this. It is sick-minded people."
The idea for the statement, two weeks in the making, came about as Randle and a member of the Utah Islamic Society discussed harassment and attacks on Middle Eastern-looking residents after terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.
Signers of the statement want Utah religious leaders to remind their congregations of what their faiths say about love, peace, compassion and service.
Two weeks ago, a separate group of religious, civic and business leaders called Alliance for Unity issued a similar plea, saying they were concerned about the acceptance of diversity in Utah. That group's message, five months in the making, was not tied to the terrorist attacks on the United States.
Religious leaders who participated in Tuesday's news conference said religious and civic leaders and individual Utahns should learn about the teachings of other faiths so they can treat their neighbors with respect and dignity, "and that none shall fear intolerance, discrimination, or persecution because of the tradition to which they belong."
The signers pledged to provide a "sanctuary of safe hospitality" to welcome and serve people coming to visit Utah during the 2002 Olympics.
Finally, they call on people around the world to observe an international Olympic truce -- a period of peace and good will -- starting a week before the Games and ending a week after.
The truce was originally established in Greece in the ninth century B.C. to protect athletes, artists and their families as they traveled to and from the Games. In modern times, the first truce project was launched in 1992 following the breakup of Yugoslavia.
Next month, the International Olympic Committee will request that the United Nations institute the Olympic truce during the 2002 Games.
As part of that, Utah's various faiths will display visible symbols of peace, such as peace poles, and stage peace gatherings next February to promote the truce.
The Rev. Scott Schiesswohl, senior pastor of Park City United Methodist Church, noted that religious leaders have called for peace and understanding before. But he said the cry is different now because the United States has been attacked on its mainland.
"It's a time where unusual unity can be sought," he said.
The call for peace is not meant to be a political statement to denounce possible U.S. retaliation against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, Randle said. However, many of the signatories are members of peace organizations.
"We need to have people brought to justice without any more killing," said the Rev. Annie Heart, leader of the Utah United Methodist Committee on Peace with Justice.
Robert Pearce, a member of the Christ United Methodist Church, said he plans to sign the statement because "the virus of terrorism does not leave Utah immune. Perhaps if we do 'light the fire within' and seek the loving tenants of each of our faith traditions, perhaps we can instill immunity."

©Copyright 2001, The Salt Lake Tribune

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