Wednesday, November 15, 2006

IAW At The Capital 2005 - An American Baptist Perspective

In recognition of this Eighth Annual Interfaith Awareness Week I am pleased
to gather in this the great state of Wisconsin's capital rotunda with
leaders and representatives of many diverse religious traditions.

Perhaps you have noticed the wonderful polished stones that make this state
Capital one of the most beautiful state capitals in all of America. As we
look around this rotunda we can see all variety of stones quarried and
brought to this country to build this Capital. The sixteen black Labradorite
columns supporting the circular gallery upon which we are standing is from
Norway. The decorative horizontal pink Numidian Marble band encircling this
gallery is from Algeria. These large green columns of marble are from
Greece. The Levanto Marble balusters that make up the railing encircling
this gallery are from Italy. It is the diversity of stones contained within
this Capital which makes it beautiful, strong, and capable of withstanding
the tests of time.

As young children, we are taught that America is a country where a diversity
of cultures and multiplicity of religions is esteemed and cherished. We
learn that being an American means valuing the separation of church and
state, so that no one particular religious voice is given priority in civil
discourse and all voices are protected. We are taught to value and respect
dissenting views, and to support vehemently the right and responsibility of
those with whom we disagree to voice their views. As Americans, we cherish a
rich and thoughtful debate and understand the necessity of that debate in
our decision-making process.

As Americans, we aspire toward the common good, work for the creation of a
just society, and seek prosperity for all rather than wealth for a few. We
treasure the beauty and richness of our natural environments, from mountain
to sea, from desert to plain, and we resolve to protect these treasures for
generations to come.

Today these historic American values stand at risk. Openly contemptuous of
religious diversity and freedom of expression, the rigid religious values of
certain Christians exercise undue sway over public and social policies. A
growing lack of tolerance for religious and cultural diversity jeopardizes
the basic prerequisite for a functioning democracy-the social space for free
and civil debate. We have become intolerant and inhospitable to one another.
Civil debate no longer has a place in our political process, some who
question have been labeled unpatriotic, having become fearful of those with
whom we do not agree.

Christian faith calls every believer to love God, love neighbor, and seek to
heal a broken world. In honoring that call, we honor the inviolable dignity
of every human being and we treasure the natural environment as God's good
creation. As Christ bears witness to God's love for the world, faithful
Christians bear witness to the love that lies at the heart of all that is.
We believe that reconciliation and forgiveness are always possible and
always necessary. We know that God still speaks, yet we acknowledge that it
is through a multiplicity of diverse voices that God's voice for justice
can, will, and must emerge. These manifold voices for justice require that
we heal the sick, release the prisoner, bind up the wounded, and care for
the orphan. "As you do unto the least of these, you do unto me."

We must recommit ourselves to the care of the most vulnerable among us, to
hospitality toward immigrants and other strangers, to multilateral
international institutions that promote peaceful resolutions of conflicts,
and to responsible stewardship of the earth's resources. We will hold onto
hope, stay strong in our faith, and trust in a common vision for the future
based upon the best in our past. We will remember what we struggle against,
and for whom we struggle - for the poor, the hungry, the imprisoned, and the
marginalized, but not only for them.

As Martin Luther King said: "We must all learn to live together as brothers
and sisters or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in
the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of
mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For
some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you
ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I
ought to be. This is the way God's universe is made; this is the way it is
structured."

Today we stand as religious leaders and we speak because we are fighting for
our future, for the future of our children, and for the soul of a great
country, which we will continue to hold in our prayers and whose spirit we
will honor through our continued struggle for liberty, equality, and justice
for all.

Thank You.
The Rev. Jeff Billerbeck
Director/ACPE Supervisor
Meriter Health Services
Department of Pastoral Services
202 South Park St.
Madison, WI 53715
608-267-6480 fax 608-267-6419
jbillerbeck@meriter.com

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