ABHMS executive director decries political violence, urges peaceable discourse at interfaith vigil

VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS 01/09/2024)—Dr. Jeffrey Haggray, American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS) executive director, joined five other senior faith leaders from diverse traditions on the grounds of the United States Capitol last Friday, January 5, for an interfaith vigil to address how sacred texts offer a prescription for a more enlightened pursuit of democratic governance in a time of historic disunity.

Titled “Faith in Democracy in 2024,” the hybrid event was the third annual gathering hosted by Franciscan Action Network (FAN) and Faith in Peace Concerts in their ongoing commitment to being peacemakers and bridge-builders between those still polarized over the events of January 6, 2021, when the seat of the U.S. Congress was violently seized and the peaceful transition of presidential power gravely tested.

“Gathered three years following the horrific events of January 6, 2021, we are still grappling with what it means to be uncertain about our sustainability and survivability as a humane community,” said Haggray to in-person and online audiences when he took the podium. “We are also asking, what is the prescription going forward for curing inflamed divisions and unresolved conflicts for the sake of our wellness as a nation?”

That prescription is rooted in the Beatitudes and specifically Matthew 5:9 (“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”), according to Haggray, who expressed his conviction plainly, stating, “We must make peace with one another that transcends our differences if we are to survive as a human family and as a democracy.”

In a nation where partisan politics forces its citizens to view the January 6 attack, and all that precipitated it, through an “us versus them” lens and where recent polling suggests that a sizable voting block has become numb or, worse, inured to the grievous harm inflicted that day, “Faith in Democracy in 2024” was a modest yet powerful reminder that the “beautiful community” Jesus envisioned in the Sermon on the Mount lies at the end of a different, more enlightened, path.

“As a society, a nation and a world, we need to talk with one another to understand the real issues that divide us and that undermine our peaceful coexistence,” said Haggray. “We need to recognize that offensive approaches toward one another are failing to achieve peace while also increasing tensions.”

Other faith leaders who shared messages of civility and unity informed by their respective traditions were Sr. Bridget Bearss, associate director for transformative justice, Leadership Council of Women Religious; the Rev. Karen Brau, senior pastor, Luther Place Memorial Church; Rabbi David Saperstein, director emeritus and senior advisor for policy and strategy, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Imam Talib Shareef, president, Masjid Muhammad (“The Nation’s Mosque”); and the Rev. Jim Wallis, director, from Georgetown University Center on Faith and Justice. The schedule also featured interludes of inspirational music by groups Reverb and The Sweater Set.

FAN Executive Director Michele Dunne stressed the ongoing relevance of the 2024 vigil, appropriately held in the shadow of the Capitol Building given the current state of political dysfunction within. She concedes that disputes are inevitable; however, political violence is untenable. “As Franciscans, we are called to act as agents of peace and respectful dialogue,” she said. As the next presidential election draws closer, “now is the time to reflect on how our faith traditions and values can inform our actions.”

David Searby, Faith in Peace Concerts project director, added, “Our vigil shows how sacred scripture from many traditions supports the values of peace and democracy.”

For the full text of Haggray’s remarks at “Faith in Democracy in 2024,” visit The Christian Citizen Online.

American Baptist Home Mission Societies partners with American Baptists to promote Christian faith, cultivate Christ-centered leaders and disciples, and bring healing and transformation to communities across the United States and Puerto Rico.

American Baptist Churches USA is one of the most diverse Christian denominations today, with approximately 5,000 congregations comprised of 1.3 million members, across the United States and Puerto Rico, all engaged in God’s mission around the world.