Thoughtful forum deserving of a larger audience

Front, Dr. Parvez Ahmed and Sheriff John Rutherford; back: Father Tom Deppe, Rabbi Joshua Lief and Angela Corey, State Attorney’s Office

Front, Dr. Parvez Ahmed and Sheriff John Rutherford; back: Father Tom Deppe, Rabbi Joshua Lief and Angela Corey, State Attorney’s Office

Religious and civic leaders speak on faith, violence

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

A priest, a rabbi and an imam sit on a panel…
Sounds like the start of a joke, doesn’t it? The punch line, however, will be unexpected.
Last month, All Saints Episcopal Church, 4171 Hendricks Avenue, held an interfaith forum on faith and violence. The panel, moderated by journalist/blogger Tricia Booker, consisted of the church’s pastor, Father Tom Deppe; Rabbi Joshua Lief at Congregation Ahavath Chesed; Dr. Parvez Ahmed, associate professor of finance at the University of North Florida as well as an Islamic imam; Sheriff John Rutherford of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, and Angela Corey, State Attorney General’s Office, 4th Judicial Circuit.

The topic, promoting peace through understanding faith and violence, gave each of these religious and civic leaders an opportunity to share their answers to six prepared questions.

The gathering of approximately 125 heard responses to questions such as “What it is about religion that can drive a person to violence?”, “What do you say to someone who claims violence is condoned in Scripture?”, “Is there an increase in crimes in the name of religious faith?”, “Are we doing enough to expose fringe groups who use religion to promote violence?” and “What are we ignoring that could help prevent violence?” The panelists were also asked “What acts of violence have challenged your own faith?”

While there was very little disagreement among the panelist on most topics, the surprising answers came from Sheriff Rutherford. “Most of the violence we deal with comes from a lack of faith,” said Rutherford. “I don’t support the death penalty. I believe every life is sacred. Every saint has a past and every sinner a future.”

Corey responded, “Faith teaches behavior but neither faith nor lack of faith is an acceptable excuse or reason for a crime. The state of Florida will never excuse a faith-based crime.”

Rutherford noted that, in his opinion, the proper response to a crime against a religious community is the coming together by the community at large to decry that violence. Rabbi Lief echoed those sentiments. “It’s better for society to be better informed about the faiths of our neighbors. The root of morality indicates that people are not welcome to put [evil] ideas into action against others’ faiths.”
According to Dr. Ahmed, there are few, if no, studies that actually link faith and violence, but there may be enabling factors in religions that could prompt an individual or a group to violence as a solution. “No faith teaches harming someone, but if its scriptures are read out of context, they can be taken as a violent text,” he said. “People tend to look at those texts against current events, but they need to look at history to understand them.”

When asked what can be done to prevent violence, Father Deppe noted that one has to model peace and preach peace, “It comes from within; you have to change yourself.” Corey, a member of St. John’s Cathedral, added, “People who have a captive audience have to reach out and teach the consequences of crime.”

“Be encouraging to others,” said Rutherford. “Freedom requires a virtuous people – a people of faith – who believe in something greater than themselves.” Rabbi Lief offered a paraphrase on an Edmund Burke quote “All it takes for evil to succeed is for good people to do nothing.” He also noted, “It’s up to each of us to stand up against violence.”

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