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Mass shooting prompts calls for action

Faith leaders suggest loving neighbors can overcome hate


United Methodist Churches in the Baltimore-Washington area found a lighted candle on their alters Sunday in memory of the nine people killed in the Charleston, SC church this week.

Bishop Marcus Matthews of the Washington Area of The United Methodist Church (UMC), called on churches in his conference to "symbolically light a candle of love during Sunday's worship. . . as a symbol of our determination to tackle hatred with love."

While expressing condolences to the congregation of Emanuel AME church and families of the victims, many church leaders expressed concern about a society in which mass shootings like those this week have become all to common. "We firmly reiterate," said the Archbishop Demetrios of the Archdiocese of America of the Greek Orthodox Church, "the unyielding commitment of the Orthodox Church to all efforts for the elimination of the causes of similar inhuman actions."

"As a nation, we delude ourselves if we think that Wednesday’s attack is an isolated aberration," said the Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, Episcopal Bishop of Washington and the Rev. Gary Hall, Dean of the Washington National Cathedral, in a joint statement posted on the Catheral's Website. "From 16th Street Baptist in Birmingham to the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin to the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City, sanctuaries of prayer have been the target of violence. Too often, the false idol of racial superiority has been the motivation; too often, easy access to guns has been seen as the solution, not a symptom of a more severe sickness.

"For too long," they added, "our African-American sisters and brothers have endured a reign of terror that has targeted churches, homes and businesses in the name of the ugly ideology of white supremacy. Such a visceral hatred for people of color has no place in our country, our homes or our hearts."

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, echoed the call of Baltimore Muslim leaders for a “Day of Prayer” Friday to seek peace and healing in the aftermath of Wednesday's massacre. "As Muslims across America observe the month of Ramadan, we urge communities to reflect on the need to defeat hatred with tolerance, to seek justice for those murdered and to pray for peace and healing for grieving families and communities," said Zainab Chaudry, CAIR's Maryland Outreach Manager.

The Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, calling the murders in the church "all the more painful and heinous." But he added, "The central Christian message remains before us even now; ultimately, death and evil do not and will not triumph."

While the U.S. Department of Justice said it was opening an investigation to determine if the shoots fit the definition of a hate crime, some members of the religious community said it was more correctly called domestic terrorism.

"This killer wanted to make a statement," said the Rev. Patrick Duggan, the pastor of a United Church of Christ congregation in New York. "He wanted to send a message that was much bigger than hate. A message that African Americans do not deserve the constitutional right of freedom of religion. A message that African Americans are not supposed to become strong leaders who aspire to serve in elected office, who stand with other clergy against the killing of black men like Walter Scott in North Charleston. This killer wanted to strike terror in the hearts of African Americans, that even if you pray in church, your black lives do not matter."

The Presbyterian Church (USA) said "arresting hate is the work we are all called to do."

The United Methodist Church's communications office placed a full page color ad in the Charleston Post and Courier Sunday designed to "encourage the people of Charlestown and the AME Church. The ad called for communities to join together in support of the victims' families.

"We call on United Methodists and all people of good will to support the victims of this and all acts of violence, to work to end racism and hatred. . ." the ad quotes Bishop Warner Brown Jr., president of The United Methodist Council of Bishops, under a headline "Our neighbors. Our hearts. Our thoughts. Our prayers."

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