Pastoral Letter: Contributing "to a Richer Imagination That Can Lead to Peace" (March 27, 2002)

Pastoral Letter from UUA President William G. Sinkford 3/27/02

My dear friends,

In my previous pastoral letters to you and in recent sermons, I have referred to my deep belief that the proper religious response to the challenges of our times is to raise questions that call us to engage our consciences in the search for deeper truth. But sometimes the horror and tragedy of violence is so overwhelming that raising questions is not sufficient. The escalating levels of violence and reprisal between Israelis and Palestinians compel me to speak directly and unequivocally.

There must be an immediate cease-fire in the Middle East. The killing must stop. We cannot stand by as innocent women, men, and children are slaughtered by terrorist bombings and indiscriminate military retaliation.

There must be an immediate cease-fire in the Middle East. And then government leaders and religious people must find new ways of imagining what could be. The present headlong rush to kill and avenge makes it painfully clear that our imagination to date has been sadly inadequate.

There must be an immediate cease-fire in the Middle East. Only then can both parties in this ancient conflict step back from the violence and join with people of good will around the world to find the way to a Middle East where the state of Israel is confident in its security and the Palestinian people have not only their own state but also a sense that justice has won out.

Because the United States has such vast power, its role in pursuit of this vision will be crucial. Today I call upon our elected leaders to recognize that our old approach has failed and that we must adopt a balanced posture in which we live out equally strong commitments to the legitimate needs of both sides. U.S. policy to date has enabled the Israeli government to act in ways that no honestly religious person can condone.

Diplomacy is crucial; finding secure boundaries is crucial; establishing a Palestinian state as stable and grounded as Israel is crucial. But religious people are at war, each side demonizing and thus denying the full humanity of the other, so religious work is as crucial as diplomatic work. Today I also call on religious people everywhere to make a deeper commitment to helping the suffering Israeli and Palestinian peoples find peace in their souls as well as their nations. It is time for religious voices to makes themselves clearly heard about U.S. policy and in support of a global effort to end the violence.

We Unitarian Universalists are called to do all we can to help with this religious work and to contribute to a richer imagination that can lead to peace. We are called to this work by our hearts and consciences, and supported in it by General Assembly resolutions.

I call for our congregations to educate themselves on these issues and to engage in honest conversation, among ourselves and in interfaith settings, honoring the anxieties that make such honest conversation difficult - the wish to avoid the emotional strain that comes with disagreement, the need to acknowledge the reality of anti-Semitism, and the discomfort with our own nation's policies, especially regarding the export of arms that fuel the fighting.

For all their differences, the peoples of the Middle East know a common pain and live in a common fear. So let our conversations strive to articulate a common ground where trust can take root and drive out suffering and despair. I offer to you some suggestions for resources to start this mission, recognizing that these are but a handful among many.

A good place to begin is the Mitchell Report, a fact-finding committee's report on the Middle East conflict presented to President Bush. Informative materials are also available from Churches for Middle East Peace, a Washington-based program supported by the UUA as well as the American Friends Service Committee and other Christian denominations. The website for Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel offers further resources on this issue. Another perspective is offered by the American Committee on Jerusalem .

And there are other ways to educate ourselves. On Monday, March 25, the UU Church of Silver Spring (MD) hosted a forum entitled "Towards Unity: Defining a New American Agenda for the Israel-Palestine Conflict" featuring Jewish and Muslim speakers who offered a variety of perspectives on the topic. For information on this forum and suggestions on how your congregation can do the same, please contact our minister in Silver Spring, the Rev. Elizabeth Lerner .

At the recent ministerial convocation in Birmingham, Alabama, 238 Unitarian Universalist ministers signed a petition urging a nonviolent resolution to this crisis. As president of our Association, I dedicate myself and my administration to joining with religious people everywhere who will commit to working toward a richer imagination on how to achieve peace. May the new imagination start now, within each of us. The killing must stop.

In faith,

William G. Sinkford
President, Unitarian Universalist Association