Responding to Acts of Violence,
Intolerance & Hatred
We write this letter to the churches and people
of Vermont to help inform our common response to acts and
words of hatred, violence, intolerance and cruelty. When we
confront such disruptions, our faith offers us guidance. It
offers us insight into the roots of such disruption. Furthermore,
it sets us a standard of conduct that demands that we refrain
from such destructive behavior and that we urge others to
do so as well. We offer these insights to all those who seek
a better world that we might together understand the reality
with which we are dealing and the ideal to which we are striving.
We turn to the Bible for an understanding of
the human condition. All persons are children of God and each
person and group of persons has a mission to manifest God's
glory in unique ways. All persons, in both their diversity
and their alikeness, are graced by God to contribute to the
common good and to God's purposes for us.
God wills that we all live out our callings
freely. We are responsible beings, called to work together
in peace and justice, creating a world in which we are free
from attack and degradation.
Yet human life is broken. Our individual and
corporate lives are damaged, misdirected and destructive.
This is inevitable when we do not seek and rely upon the grace
of God. When we rely only on our own devices, we are fearful.
We come to look upon others, especially those different from
us in some way, with fear, distrust, animosity and hatred.
We try to live our lives without reliance upon the love of
God. We try to make do in the world without God. This is at
the heart of what Christians call sin. We cannot escape this
condition by ourselves.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ provides an alternative
to violence, hatred, discrimination and exploitation. That
Gospel calls us to live out the Great Commandments: to love
God with all our hearts, minds and strength and to love others
as we love ourselves. We recognize that this is also an important
part of the traditions of other faiths. We believe that it
ought to be the guiding principle for our collective life
together as well as our individual lives.
How we live this principle is critically important,
especially when we deal with issues of importance on which
we differ. For instance, we may well come to alternative assessments
of moral imperatives in particular human situations. Yet,
especially in such situations, it is God's will that we live
together in unity and peace (Ephesians 4:1-3). We confess
that we may well make divergent mistakes. We may construe
events differently. We may evaluate our responsibilities differently.
Yet we unite in our commitment to seek true unity of spirit
and reconciliation-even with those with whom we disagree strongly.
As Christians we believe we have this unity and reconciliation
in Jesus Christ, whose Body we both are and seek to be. It
is to his guidance and love we seek to submit, and in his
resurrection we place our hope for a new life that overcomes
the sin of the world.
We face a challenge! God has given us great
diversity in creation and God has given us each freedom. Therefore
God has called us to work through the diversity and multiplicity
of life and human understanding to apprehend a way to the
ultimate unity of all things (Romans 11). We confess that
the whole truth is always greater than our own understanding.
By engaging with those who differ with us, our own inadequacies
are challenged and so are theirs; only by engaging with those
who differ from us can we learn from their insights and share
ours with them. Then we may together sense the greater truth
Unity of people in obedience to God,
therefore, requires us to lay aside pride, status, and contempt
of others who differ from us in thought and understanding.
When we place the love Of God first, we forbear condemning
others that we might learn truth from each other-- even truth
we are loath to hear.
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True tolerance has to do with the way we disagree,
not with the content of our disagreement. Yet tolerance has
come to mean in popular understanding that content "makes
no difference"- you have your point of view, I have mine,
and we "live and let live." This is not tolerance
but moral relativism. It arises from our fear of conflict
and intellectual laziness. What we seek is rather rigorous
understanding of one another's positions and real reconciliation
For this reason we choose to speak of "forbearance"
rather than "tolerance." Forbearance as ethical
practice enables people of differing views to enter into one
another's perspectives even when they disagree. Thereby people
are able to learn new truths by discovering in apparent disagreement
something new that points towards a fuller truth. Even when
we do this and discover that disagreement is real, we maintain
a relationship of love and respect. Both moral relativism
and moral absolutism avoid this difficult work of engagement
with the multiplicity of human experiences of truth-and the
even more difficult work of maintaining relationships in the
face of real disagreement.
We affirm what the Apostle Paul teaches about
love in I Corinthians 13 as a model for practicing forbearance
without moral relativism. Truth without love breeds absolutism.
But love will always seek the truth, not to judge and condemn
others, but to draw people together in love as they seek to
know our loving God in whom truth and love are one.
Love is both the means and the end of our lives;
to contend for truth in an unloving way is to do unutterable
violence to truth itself. "God is love, and those who
abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them... Those
who say 'I love God' and hate their brothers or sisters, are
liars (I John 4:16 and 20).
We see an example of the unity of truth and
love in the way Jesus handled both the crowd and the woman
whom they had caught in adultery and were going to stone to
death (John 8:1-11). He refused to be caught up in the passion
of the moment, to judge and to condemn. He held up a mirror
to others by telling them that if they were sinless they could
throw the first stone. Then, when they had drifted away, he
did not condemn the woman-but he admonished her to sin no
EXPERIENCE AND ITS PRINCIPLES
We have experienced what is it like to seek
truth and reconciliation through continuing disagreements
in our own lives together as churches. The significant achievements
of ecumenical dialogue during the past half century have produced
unprecedented peace-making and resolutions of differences
that had led in the past to centuries of hatred, warfare and
disunity among the various branches of Christianity. Although
we have continued to differ on important matters, we are convinced
that ecumenical dialogue moves us toward the truth in love
(Ephesians 4:15). Our experience offers an example for the
world of how we can live out the Great Commandments in our
corporate as well as individual lives.
In particular, we try to follow these principles
(which we have derived from our experience together as churches)
and we urge individuals and other groups to follow them as
1. Practice patience in dialogue. Recognize
that truth emerges slowly as trust grows between persons and
2. Speak truthfully from the depths of your
own experience and understanding. Reach deep within yourselves
for what you hold to be truth and share it with clarity and
openness. This way others will hear more than slogans or jargon.
They will hear the depth of your experience of reality.
3. Develop and practice a readiness to listen.
Forbear judging others while holding on to your own truth.
Place a priority on listening until you hear the transcendent
truth that transforms you as listeners and dialogue partners.
4. Practice attentiveness to the other. Focus
on learning about the other person or other group. Come to
know them from the inside out rather than on the basis of
We recognize that it can be difficult to practice
these skills when one is faced with hatred, contempt and disrespect,
especially if they are accompanied by violence or threats
of violence. Nevertheless, this is the standard to which we
Following these practices we will see the fruits
of the Spirit manifested amid our diversity. We will experience
love, joy, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness,
and self-control (Galatians 5:22). We will experience the
absence of boastfulness, pride, rudeness, selfishness and
anger. The practices we commend are themselves ways of showing
love to others, a love that can calm moments of tension or
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RESPONSE OF FAITH
We urge all Christians and persons of good
will to respond to the perpetrators of acts of hatred, violence
and intolerance in a manner like that of Christ. Offer no
counter hatred, vengeance or retribution; offer instead love
and an invitation to new life.
We recognize that some behaviors and actions
and words cannot be countenanced in our society. We are called
to stand firmly against actions of violence, cruelty and hatred,
against those who violate the right order of God's world-even
if this places us in jeopardy ourselves.
But, in opposition to these acts, we may not
adopt the very hatred, vengeance and violence we are opposing.
Such means violate the end we seek. We are called to model
the power and truth of love for every one of God's children,
no matter how heinous their crimes, while we condemn the deeds
they have done.
We can aspire to follow such a difficult standard
only with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It is a standard
which moves us toward a more just society in which restorative
justice is encouraged and people are less likely to turn to
violence and hatred. The standard embodies as means the very
ends it seeks.
We are therefore called to work not only in
reaction to deeds of violence and hatred. We are to challenge
the systemic and institutional injustices that foster a climate
of fear, poverty, degrading competition and selfishness. We
are called to engage in the reform of our common life so that
all may know the benefits of employment, adequate income,
access to the necessities of life-and the space and time to
grow as spiritual beings, children of God.
This calling may involve us in sacrificial
opposition to forms of exploitation, discrimination, isolation,
neglect and abuse, violence and organized forms of hatred.
Such actions are gifts we make so that the Great Commandments
may become a lived reality in our time and place.
Therefore we urge all persons of faith to support
victims of hatred and violence by all reasonable material
and personal means available. At the same time, we all shall
seek in prayer the transformation of the victim, the perpetrator,
and the culture-so that all might live in justice and peace.
We urge you to seek public forums in which to witness to this
faith and to practice love and seek justice. Finally, may
we all together encourage others who are fearful or filled
with hatred to come into the love of God, to cease their destructive
acts and words, and to extend the helping hand of goodwill
to all persons. (Back to top)
Prepared and published by the Faith and Order
Approved by the Trustees of the Vermont Ecumenical
Council and Bible Society, June 2001
Prepared and published by the Faith and
Approved by the Trustees of the Vermont Ecumenical
Council and Bible Society, June 2001.