I am very proud of Mississippi Unitarian Universalist Congregations. While we were the last state to give representation to this important issue, 5/6 Unitarian Universalist congregations in the state signed on to participate in National Religious Coalition Against Torture’s (NCRAT) observance of this critical issue by displaying banners. This is the highest percentage of UU congregations in any one state to participate. In fact, to date MS is the only state to have five Unitarian Universalist congregations participating. California comes in second with four Unitarian Universalist congregations participating. To see the banner at the Hattiesburg Unitarian Universalist Fellowship click here. (I wasn’t able to post the picture directly. I will add more pictures as they become available.)
Here is what NCRAT released to the press about this month long event:
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) launched its Banners Across America initiative in a telephone press conference describing the nationwide anti-torture banner campaign taking place during the month of June. Hundreds of congregations across the United States have joined this campaign in an effort to mobilize the American faith community in opposition to U.S.-sponsored torture. The “Banners Across America” initiative, organized by NRCAT, is timed to allow local congregations to participate in a nationwide, interfaith public witness during Torture Awareness Month.
To date, 298 congregations, located in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, are participating in this effort by displaying anti-torture banners during the month of June. Most of the large, vinyl banners are black-and-white and have anti-torture messages: “Torture is Wrong” and “Torture is a Moral Issue.”
Rev. Richard Killmer, NRCAT’s Executive Director, opened the press conference. ”We are thrilled that almost 300 congregations have made a significant and courageous witness in their community by displaying an anti-torture banner on the exterior of their building. In a public way these congregations are stating clearly that torture is always wrong – without any exceptions. These powerful witnesses may hasten the day when we see the end of U.S.-sponsored torture,” he said.
Linda Gustitus, NRCAT’s President highlighted the following organizational goals:
**Stop the use of torture techniques by the CIA
**Close secret prisons
**Stop rendition for torture
**Hold our government accountable for what we have done. NRCAT has called for a Select Committee of Congress to investigate all aspects of U.S. sponsored torture post 9/11.
“Torture is not a political issue,” emphasized Ms. Gustitus. “Whether you’re for or against torture shouldn’t depend upon whether you’re for or against the President, the war or a particular party. Torture is a moral issue. It is immoral to use torture, and it is immoral to condone it — affirmatively or silently. Torture destroys the very soul of our nation and it must be stopped.”
Rev. Chris Grapentine, Pastor of Northside Community Church in Ann Arbor, MI, described the successful efforts in that city to engage a diverse group of congregations in this public witness. The 13 participating groups include churches of several denominations, a Jewish group, and a Buddhist temple.
“The banner will show our neighbors that we stand against the inhumane treatment of all people, even our enemies, because Jesus calls us to love our enemies,” said Rev, Grapentine, whose congregation is an American Baptist Church.
Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster of Rabbis for Human Rights noted that 27 Jewish congregations across the country are participating in the banner project, displaying a special banner that features the message “Honor the Image of God: Stop Torture Now.”
“The strong response of the Jewish community to the banner project demonstrates that we believe that stopping torture is a Jewish religious imperative,” stated Rabbi Kahn-Troster. ”As a community who has historically been a victim of torture and oppression, we are compelled by our values to identify with the plight of the stranger and work to ensure k’vod habriot, the dignity of every human being. Torture denies that every person is created b’tzelem elohim, in the image of God. The synagogues hanging the banner are sending a message to our government that Jews regard torture as an affront to their Jewish values.”
Unitarian Universalists seek to uphold their first two principles that all people are endowed with inherent worth and dignity and the desire to seek justice, equity, and compassion within all human relations. Torture dehumanizes everyone involved, not just the recipient but also the deliverer of the torture. The deliverer of torture is spiritually wounded by the act to an equally extreme degree. It is easy to identify the wounds- physically, emotionally, psychically, and spiritually to the tortured. The trauma caused to the deliverer of the torture is equally extreme because it is hidden in a ruse of being sanctioned by authorities; by being wrapped in patriotism. One cannot in clear conscience claim to be a person of faith and honor their spirituality and allow / observe / participate in torture; to do so is to deny one’s spiritual foundation and humanity.
I close with this quote:
“A time comes when silence is betrayal. People do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. For we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness so close around us. We are called upon to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation, for those it calls “enemy,” for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers and sisters. -Martin Luther King, Jr.
Blessings, Rev. Fred L Hammond