- The Washington Times - Monday, September 17, 2001

Excerpts from a sermon given yesterday by the Rev. Scott W. Alexander at River Road Unitarian Church in Bethesda.
What does one say in a house of faith and hope and love following horrific violence and unfathomable cruelty? Emotions come much easier to the throat than words do.
Incredible danger and uncertainty lie ahead for everyone on this globe. No one should underestimate how complex and unpredictable our future will be. Yet this difficult time has brought us together with a commonality of heart that cuts across all of our differences as Americans.
First of all, we share one grief and sadness. We are a people of diverse languages, cultures and races, to include our Arab-American neighbors. But as Americans all, we are connected by a strong and generous web of concern, empathy and compassion. It is right and it is good that we grieve for one another. Our grief for our fellow citizens reminds us of the best which this nation stands for. The first positive step through this grief is to affirm its power and its rightness.
Secondly, our common hearts bear a great deal of fear and apprehension. There is no weakness in having fear, only strength. For our fears, if properly understood and channeled, help us to mobilize our positive human resources. Lying just beyond those fears is another set of emotions — anger and rage. I believe it is terribly important that we deal with these volatile emotions maturely, wisely and with principle. Our anger is natural and justified. There has been a great loss of innocent life. We must not pretend — even the most pacifistic and peace-loving among us — that we do not feel outrage.
However, we must also not allow our anger to get out of perspective. As a religious leader, I am deeply worried by the hateful vehemence, blind simplicity and thoughtless, self-righteous anger I hear many Americans expressing. Now, please hear that I am an American who wants my government to respond resolutely. I want justice done, and understand this will almost certainly necessitate strong military action. But as a Unitarian Universalist committed to finding peaceful, rational and humane solutions, I also want my leaders and my nation to move carefully, judiciously and morally.
We must and will respond forcefully to try to ensure such horrors never happen again. At the same time, I believe deeply that our national anger is at least as dangerous to us and to everything we value as any terrorists are. Angry and indiscriminate military responses could lead to an upward spiral of violence. We are in danger if, in arrogance, we over-simplify complex geo-political realities. Terrorism has no moral justification, but it nonetheless has decades-old root causes. We must eventually address these with diligent diplomacy, structures of greater social and economic justice and, eventually, a whole new way of doing business in the world.
I worry that some Americans will impose unjust acts of violence, prejudice or hatred on innocent Arabic people. As a religious person, you must express your absolute refusal to stereotype any human being. There are always powerful, honorable and less-violent options open to us. Over the coming days, many angry voices will be raised. I pray that the prevailing voice comes from Americans who speak for the best in their hearts and the finest in their faith traditions. I pray that you will lift your voices on behalf of the principles of our Unitarian Universalist faith, and for parallel values at the beautiful heart of the American dream.
I see it on all of our faces this morning. We are all profoundly shaken. No one truly knows what to do, nor why and how to do it. Let us, therefore, keep our emotional and moral bearings. And I leave you with this prayer: Be of good courage. Refuse all negation. Stand up for that which is best and brightest in your heart.
Next week: a sermon by the Rev. Mark Shaltanis at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Falls Church
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