A U.S. flag waves in the wind on a boat near the Statue of Liberty in New York. The Statue of Liberty, designed by French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, celebrates its 125 years in New York on Oct. 28, 2011. The statue was a gift from France to the American people.Lucas Jackson / Reuters
When, in the course of human events, we see some young people dissolve the social ties which have connected them to the rest of society and resort to violence, it becomes necessary to understand them and their troubles instead of branding them “outcasts” and affording them only lethal force, incarceration or isolation.
It is imperative for us as leaders of our faiths to be boundlessly compassionate, while reviling violence of all kinds, whether in the form of gang violence or Muslim extremism. We must separate the acts from the individuals. Our love for humanity must include all, even those who engage in violence.
It is our compassion that will heal the wounds of those who need us the most—the troubled young men and women of our communities in danger of falling into the abyss of despair and violence. We must act as Jesus did when he touched the lives of those who were pushed to the margins of society, and as Muhammad when he brought mercy to a cruel and merciless world.
We abhor the impulse of people to resort to violence as a means of communicating and wielding influence, but we need to examine our own culture of violence that, as Americans, we endorse and encourage as a matter of policy, and realize the models we present to our youth. Declaring wars that are unwinnable—from the war on drugs, to the war on terrorism, to wars on impoverished countries—has become an addiction for our country. We must declare our own independence from violence and war as a matter of principle, in order to be credible when speaking with young people who see it as a way of life. Slogans like being “tough on crime” are empty words that only feed the cycle of violence. We need to be smarter, not tougher.
Today, in many houses of worship the marginalized are shunned, because they embody a set of circumstances that create dissonance in the routines of the privileged in each religious community. That must change.
First, we must create safe spaces for conversations in our houses of worship, to restore the meaning of “sanctuary.” Our task is to intervene and infuse hope in the lives of those young men and women who were born into this world into lives surrounded by despair and have lost all hope in America.
We renounce all governmental intrusions in our sacred spaces, and we pronounce our commitment and re-commitment to young people to fill the space of emptiness and bitterness in their hearts with an infusion of hope.
Therefore, we begin with these goals:
1) Create in our sanctuaries judgment-free zones where young people can think and speak freely in spaces safe for conversations of any kind. Troubled youth should be able to bring their concerns to us, rather than displace their troubles to the streets. They should be able to rely spiritually and psychologically on our communities.
2) Develop with our government and law enforcement a mechanism that would allow intervention with troubled young people without intrusive threats that would violate the sanctity of our houses of worship. We must be able to work independently with young people, not as an extension of law enforcement.
3) Develop a partnership with the American Peace Corps that deals with injustice. It could be an American Corps for Justice or the Human Dignity Corps, where young people could work on redressing their own grievances and reach the light at the end of a long tunnel of injustice.
Today, we declare our independence from the culture of violence. We reject the violence endorsed by our society as an antidote to the violent nature of some of our troubled young people. We challenge ourselves and our fellow Americans to rekindle that spirit to adhere to the will of God, embrace one another in familial unity and in our self-evident right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Fr. Greg Boyle is Founder and Director, Homeboy Industries, Dr. Maher Hathout is Founder and Senior Advisor, Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Rev. Ed Bacon Rector, All Saints Church Pasadena.