March 30, 2009
For many of us the account of the world being created by God is a privileged witness to the foundational conviction that those who worship the One God and call Abraham their father bring to all human affairs: namely, the conviction that the human race came into existence through the free and deliberate act of the one God, who is the author and creator of the whole cosmic order.
It is this conviction which flowered in that affirmation from the Declaration of Independence which even today stirs the heart of every American – whether that’s a newly arrived American or an American descended after generations of American citizens. I’m referring, of course, to the text of the Declaration that reads : “… that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
For us, as a free people, the firmness of our conviction about the relationship of all human beings with their Creator forms the final and irreducible bulwark against tyranny, even the tyranny of a possible majority. The dignity and liberties of each and all come from God and no other source. They are not granted by any person, party or government, and so they can never be abrogated by any person, party or government.
In telling us that the human race comes from God, the revelation also affirms that the creator entrusted the work of his hands to our care. Eide, hearing your quotation from the Koran today, Imam, I understand very much that we’re called to know one another. What God is really calling us to do is to be stewards of one another’s goods, and one another’s welfare. The earth is not ours. It is God’s. As the psalmist says, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof: the world, and all they that dwell therein.” This conviction about the stewards, our stewardship, is the foundation for our understanding of politics and public service. The sovereignty which we, as a free people, exercise over our nation, we exercise with an authority that ultimately derives from the Creator. In the end we are accountable to him for the way we shape the world. And what is true for a sovereign people is all the more true for those leaders who govern in our name.
To affirm that the exercise of civil authority is rooted in God’s plan for the world, far from lessening the dignity of public service, enhances it. This affirmation underscores the fact that our political officials participate in God’s own authority, as long as they govern according to his plan. As one of Detroit’s religious leaders, I want, as one of the first forms of service which I offer to our civic community, to acknowledge the importance of the service we receive from our elected and appointed officials.
At this point let me simply speak about the service that we in our churches, our mosques, our temples, our synagogues – all the places we gather for prayer and instruction – that we make to the common good. The first point I want to make is that we, indeed, are involved in instructing many, many of the citizens of the United States in the moral order that is inscribed in the cosmos itself, in the world that God made, and in the hearts of each of us. We are engaged, those of us who pastor our people, and those who work along with us, in shaping a people who are virtuous. As we said in our prayer, who call the wrong evil, and the good virtue. And in doing that, we make a tremendous contribution to the right ordering of our life together.
I want to underscore three particular virtues that I think our religions contribute to the life of the United States. One, a commitment to the common good, that we teach in our churches, synagogues, mosques and temples. That God has called each of us to do more than advance one’s own personal good, but that we are entrusted by God with the task of making a better nation, a better city, indeed a better world. We are our brother’s keepers. The second virtue I want to single out is that disposition which rejects every form of racism, ethnic bias and discrimination. I call this “dedication to civic peace.” This is most important in a region as diverse as ours, for us to be actively engaged in cultivating this virtue in our congregates.
And the third virtue I want to mention is hope. As we face the daunting challenges which everyone agrees lie before us in the months ahead, we religious leaders must, again and again, call our people to that vision, rooted in confidence in God and his unfailing assistance, which will serve us through this hour of testing.
We all believe we have been taught by God’s revelation that every human being is made in God’s image and likeness, and we reflect that image and likeness in our reasoning, our intelligence and in our capacity to live freely. And it is in light of that common-held truth, shared truth, that certainly we can all work together to try to advance the mutual respect for religious liberty. This is not a kind of liberty rooted in indifferentism. That is one tactic, and it was common after the French Revolution – the idea that the way to preserve civil peace is to say that nothing really matters. There are no truths, so there is no reason for contention. This is not our path for any of us who are religious leaders. We are fully and unconditionally committed to the truths of our religions, each of us. And we disagree on these matters on points, and on very important points. But that never need be a cause for the loss of respect for the religious liberty of individuals.
Because while we know there is objective and absolute truth, we also know that the dignity of each human mind and heart is absolute. So no one should ever be compelled to accept God’s truth, only invited and persuaded. And on the basis then of our own strong and unshakable religious faith, I believe we make a stronger argument for religious liberty than the one that is often made in terms of indifferentism. I believe that’s a very strong contribution we religious leaders make to the civic good.
The second thing I would like to mention is the contribution I believe all of us together can make to the strengthening of family life and the lives of children in our community. On the basis of our conviction about God the creator, and the vocation inscribed in the human heart, in the very fashioning of Adam and Eve — Adam, the father of the human race and Eve, the mother of all the living –we can move forward confidently to defend family life as God has constituted it in our community, in our world, and especially with the conviction that, as God has established human life, it is most beneficial for the protection of children. In our world today, when so often children become marginalized and frequently, and unintentionally in many cases, are seen as accessories in lives that are successful, we can speak forcefully with one voice on behalf of families because that’s the way to speak on behalf of good children.
A third way I believe that our shared conviction about the world as God’s creation can help us serve the common good, has to do with the economy. Understanding as we do that God made this whole beautiful world to be the dwelling place for the greatest of his earthly creation, the human person, we then can speak confidently and say the economy exists for the dignity of men and women. Men and women do not exist for the economy. And the measure for a healthy economy is one in which people can live in their families together with dignity. I believe that, in this time of economic uncertainty, that is a most important witness that we in our temporal synagogues mosques and churches can make before the world.
And the fourth and final point I would want to raise before us today has to do with immigration reform. By God’s providential circumstance, many of us who are in this room today who are religious leaders have congregants who are new here in the United States, new here in this region. And we understand very clearly how the immigration system as it has evolved to this point, is not working in order to preserve the security and integrity of the United States or to preserve the dignity of those who seek to come here or who are already here. I do believe that a united voice from all of us petitioning our government, once again, to solve this problem in a humane way, in a way that respects the dignity of every person even the person without documents – these are great ways that we can contribute to the common good.
In doing all of this, I think, finally, we can understand that this moment in the history of His world, God is perhaps giving us a very special task. There are other parts of the world that are not so far along in cultivating the inter-religious dialogue and inter-religious cooperation. But by God’s providence, perhaps this is the task for us here in southeastern Michigan. Clergy, priests, ministers, rabbis, imams, other faith leaders — to show that it is possible to advance this dialogue without in any way betraying the truths we all hold so dear and for which we would, with God’s strength, be willing to lay down our lives, but this is a privileged moment for us, I believe, to show to the world that for the glory of God and the good of His human family, such a dialogue and such cooperation is possible.