Primate joins religious leaders calling for peace and prayer on September 11

Doves decorated by Muslim, Jewish and Christian children attending the Kids4Peace camp near Toronto this past summer. Photo: Leigh Anne Williams
Doves decorated by Muslim, Jewish and Christian children attending the Kids4Peace camp near Toronto this past summer. Photo: Leigh Anne Williams

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, has added his voice to that of many religious leaders calling for this year’s anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in the United States to be observed with prayer and a spirit of respect and God’s love.

These calls came in response to a Florida pastor’s announced plans to burn the Qur’an on Sept. 11. After intense pressure from many quarters this week, Jones suspended his plan, but has sent mixed messages about whether he will hold to his decision.

In a statement issued on Friday, Archbishop Hiltz wrote, “I join bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and other church leaders in calling on Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fl, to maintain a commitment to refrain from a public burning of the Koran on Sept 11th, the 9th anniversary of terrorist attacks on the United States of America.”

He advised instead that the day “should be marked by gatherings for prayer, and expressions of mutual respect for our various faith traditions and the texts we all regard as sacred. This appeal is grounded in our love for God and neighbour, and our deep desire for peace among all people.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion also addressed the issue in his annual letter of greeting to Muslim communities as they mark the end of Ramadan with the festival of Eid Al-Fitr. “These are challenges that we must respond to with a consistent message: that we oppose collectively all such provocations and insist that there is no place in our traditions for violent response.”

Episcopal Church and other religious leaders are planning interfaith events on Sept. 11. They take place against the backdrop of what the National Council of Churches recently called the “anti-Muslim frenzy” that has existed in the United States since plans were announced to build an Islamic community center in Manhattan, two blocks from where the Twin Towers of the Trade Center once stood.

The Rev. Michael Kinnamon, NCC general secretary, told the group’s governing board members in a Sept. 9 letter that the aftermath of the 2001 attacks has been “almost as horrible” as the day itself “What began with a twisted plot by a handful of terrorists with bizarre ideas about God evolved quickly into two wars, tens of thousands of additional deaths among all combatants, and the deepening of xenophobic misunderstandings on all sides about the nature of Christianity, Judaism and Islam,” he wrote.

The American Bible Society ran an advertisement in the New York Times Sept. 10 headlined “Burning the Qu’ran does not illuminate the Bible” and signed by major religious groups, including the NCC and Christian Churches Together in the USA, both of which include the Episcopal Church.

The Rev. Sarah Midzalkowski, Canterbury Michigan State University chaplain, said she initially planned a “Read the Qu’ran” Sept. 11 public interfaith event to counter the “hate-filled actions”of Jones’ nondenominational group.

“To burn something is to remain ignorant of it, so we said the best response is to read it, … as an act of education and community,” Midzalkowski said during a Sept. 9 telephone interview from her East Lansing office in the Diocese of Michigan.

She and the Rev. Kit Carlson, rector of nearby All Saints Church where the campus ministry meets “wanted to let the community and the campus have a chance to come and do something positive on Sept. 11 and to make a statement against the type of action happening in Florida.”

Midzalkowski said the event would proceed as planned, whether or not Jones actually burned copies of the sacred texts.

Jones announced Sept. 9 that he had canceled the event after striking an agreement with a Manhattan imam to move construction of a mosque away from ground zero. But hours later, after the Islamic center project’s planners said no such deal existed, he appeared to reconsider, later telling the New York Times that he had merely suspended the book-burning.

Jones’ relatively unknown church sparked worldwide political and media furor as well as condemnation and concern for the safety of American troops and civilians abroad. The intense publicity also prompted questions about the role of media coverage. Internet access to the church’s website was unavailable Sept. 10, replaced by a message that the website is “under construction.”

Local reaction was swift, as Bishop Leo Frade of Southeast Florida in a Sept. 7 letter challenged Jones and called his book-burning plans “an act of intolerance and religious stupidity.”

The Rev. Andrew R. Heyes, rector of St. Clement Episcopal Church in Tampa, about 130 miles south of Gainesville in the Diocese of Southwest Florida, said he will preach against extremist actions such as Jones during a Sunday sermon.

In Gainesville, Dr. Mohammad Taqi, an assistant professor at the University of Florida College of Medicine and a spokesman for the Gainesville Muslim Initiative, an educational initiative, told the Miami Herald that he applauded vocal opposition to Jones.

Taqi said the institute has planned a homeless-feeding outreach on Sept. 11 and is organizing educational and interfaith events throughout the month in response to the Dove Center. On Sept. 8, about 300 people had gathered at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in downtown Gainesville for an interfaith service to pray for peace.

The Rev. Bill Tully, rector St. Bartholomew’s Church in New York City, said in a Sept. 10 e-mail that the world may be in the midst of “religiously obsessed culture wars,” but “we’re also largely ignorant, often even of our own religious traditions, and almost always about others.'”

“That won’t do in this global village, where the crudest, most anxious and reactive opinions can digitally spread the world in seconds,” he said.

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