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Friday, January 27, 2023



Dec. 1, 2001 – Representatives of a diversity of faiths shared their views of aggression and self-protection in the context of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks at a program Thursday evening sponsored by the Interfaith Coalition of St. Thomas-St. John. They found common ground in the concept sometimes known as "the golden rule" — that people should treat others as they would like to be treated.
More than 20 persons, among them Christians, Jews, Buddhists and Rastafarians, gathered at Palms Court Harborview Hotel for the panel discussion.
"We have come to a new era. We're at war, and people have fear," coalition board member Craig Barshinger said in opening the discussion.
While the immediate purpose of the meeting was to allow people of all faiths to express their views and feelings, its broader goal was to begin a dialogue on ways help the V.I. community deal with feelings such as insecurity and anger triggered by the Sept. 11 attacks.
Those representing Baha'i, Catholic, Jewish, Rastafarian and Unitarian Universalist traditions all spoke of the principle of treating others as you would want to be treated as one of the teachings of their faiths. According to one Baha'i representative, Baha'i teachings "tell us we must prefer our neighbor before ourselves" and that the world is made up of "many bodies of a single soul."
Responses varied as to how different faiths view war, aggression, killing and self-protection. Alan Smith of the Baha'i faith spoke of war and violence as "distortions of the spirit and the truth of our oneness." On the subject of self-protection, another Bahai representative added, "If I stop you from hurting me, it is not to save my own life, but to save you from the responsibility of hurting me."
Buddhist representatives spoke about pacifism, saying they would have preferred that the United States not respond to the terrorist attacks with aggression. They spoke of the sacredness of all life and the need to communicate in order to stop the cycle of human violence.
Rabbi Jay Heyman of the Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas said that although he could not speak for every Jewish rabbi or scholar, he supports the U.S. fighting in Afghanistan, calling it an obligatory war and one of self-defense. In the Jewish faith, he said, no human life is considered more sacred than another, but Jews believe "self-protection and protection of one's family is something you must do."
Members of the Muslim community were unable to attend the discussion, as it conflicted with their observance of the holy period of Ramadan, Barshinger said. He expressed the hope that representatives of the Islamic community would participate in the next panel discussion, planned for January.
The meeting ended in prayer led by the Rev. Wycherley Gumbs, president of the Interfaith Coalition, who asked for divine guidance for all, "that we learn to be peacemakers."
Since 1991, the Interfaith Coalition has addressed social problems and sought to promote understanding and tolerance among the various religions in the V.I. community. It is open to individuals and representatives of all religious communities that gather together in prayer. Coalition activities have included the establishment of an interfaith chapel at Roy L. Schneider Hospital and sponsorship of seminars on AIDS, child abuse and racism. The coalition is participating in the World AIDS Day activities Saturday in Emancipation Garden.
Interfaith Coalition membership meetings are held the third Tuesday of every month at 5:15 p.m. in the St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce offices on Main Street. For more information about the organization, call Gumbs at 774-0100, ext. 3167. Anyone interested in taking part in the January panel discussion is asked to call Barshinger at 693-5000.

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