Combating Violence - Leaders Speak Out

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Religious leaders wrestled with the provocative question of “where is God during a mass shooting?” during a wide-ranging panel discussion at MEC devoted to spiritual and ethical issues around such tragedies in this country.

The discussion, presented by the Department of Philosophy & Religious Studies on December 5, was held in the Edison O. Jackson Auditorium of the Academic Complex I building.

The panelists were the Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts III, President of the State University of New York at Old Westbury; Rabbi Dr. Linda Henry Goodman, Union Temple of Brooklyn; Professor Obery M. Hendricks Jr., New York Theological Seminary; Rev. Anthony Trufant, Emmanuel Baptist Church, and Reverend Dr. Cheryl Anthony, Dunamis Covenant Connection and the Founder of Judah Christian Center, Inc.

The discussion was moderated by Bishop Dr. Barbara Austin Lucas, Dunamis Covenant Connection and the invocation was given by the Rev. Kirk D. Lyons, Vanderveer Park United Methodist Church.

Some panelists argued that the country has always had a history of violence, beginning with the genocide of Native Americans. Others talked about a society of increasingly isolated individuals without core ethical beliefs, reflected on a spike in hate speech, and cited ineffective gun control.

Houses of worship have to be prepared to defend themselves “against the insanity that is gripping our nation,” Rev. Butts said. That insanity, he said, has given rise to a devaluation of human life. He added: “We do not see God in other people.”

“We need to approach this two ways,” Rabbi Goodman said of the role of religious leaders. One way is to acknowledge the pain and the fear about mass violence and the “fever pitch” of rising bigotry, homophobia and anti-Semitism, she said. Rabbi Goodman also called for religious leaders to stand up to lawmakers who refuse to impose gun legislation.

“A lot of this has to do with the breakdown of community,” said Professor Hendricks. Churches have not had the kind of impact on behavior that is needed to emphasize what Jesus taught and not just what Jesus said, he asserted.

Dr. Jean-Marie Vivaldi, chairman of the Department of Philosophy & Religious Studies, noted that the department is expanding and will feature several more discussions like the one on Tuesday night.