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Pray For Paris: Religious Leaders On Making Sense Of Violence


Pray for Paris has been the call on social media all week, so we're asking three faith leaders what Pray for Paris means to them and their communities. We begin with the lead pastor of an evangelical church in Memphis called Mosaic. His name is Ali Chambers. And pastor, welcome to the program.

ALI CHAMBERS: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: Well, let me just start by asking what Pray for Paris mean to you.

CHAMBERS: Well, really, as Christians, we feel like prayer for the whole situation doesn't just revolve around those who were victimized by that brutality, but also the perpetrators themselves. So we prayed over the ISIS individuals who did that. We prayed because knowing that they're victims of hate themselves, victims of a system that has taught them that this - how not to accept people who are different. And we spent some time in our communion time just reflecting on what the gospel means to this situation and how Christians ought to respond to it.

SHAPIRO: I think a lot of people might struggle with that idea of praying for the perpetrators...


SHAPIRO: ...And seeing the members ISIS as victims in some ways.

CHAMBERS: Yeah, yeah.

SHAPIRO: That's difficult to wrap your head around, especially...

CHAMBERS: It's provocative.

SHAPIRO: Yes, it is provocative, yes. Yeah.

CHAMBERS: Well, as Christians, we don't deny the idea of evil and evil activity. And in no way do we say to those people that they were justified in what they did. And so we hold in tension this idea of justice and forgiveness.

SHAPIRO: I saw a provocative question on a Christian website that asked, should we pray for ISIS to be converted or defeated? Is that something that you've thought about it? Do you think that's the right question to ask?

CHAMBERS: I think it is a good question to ask. I think that a lot of Christians feel like they're at war with Islam. And I feel like, when we look at the gospel and the way Jesus lived his life, he wouldn't have responded that way. We should be, in a lot of ways, different in our response to those fears because we have a hope that is living, that is powerful, that transforms. The hope of the future transforms how we deal with life here, even when things are scary.

SHAPIRO: That's Pastor Ali Chambers of Mosaic Evangelical Church in Memphis, Tenn. Thanks very much.

CHAMBERS: Thank you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: And earlier today, we reached Rabbi Ethan Linden from New Orleans, where he leads a congregation called Shir Chadash. Welcome to the program.

ETHAN LINDEN: Thank you. It's lovely to be here.

SHAPIRO: Well, what does Pray for Paris mean to you and your congregation?

LINDEN: The truth is, unfortunately, that the events of Paris were a confirmation of something we've always known, which is that human beings can do great depravity when given the opportunity. And so I think, in some ways, theologically, what happened in Paris doesn't, unfortunately, change that much in terms of the way we think about prayer and ritual and evil in the world.

SHAPIRO: Does framing this in terms of humans' ability to do terrible things to each other kind of gloss over the specific details of this incident in which we are talking about a group called ISIS that has its headquarters in Iraq and Syria that makes this terrible act different from all other terrible acts?

LINDEN: I think from a religious perspective, there is a tendency to look at things from a bird's eye view and to try to place things into a larger pattern. And in that sense, I do think it's fair to say that what happened in Paris is not different from a single individual killing another single individual. That is not to say that we should respond to both things in the same way from a political perspective, from a policy perspective. But the capacity of human beings to hurt and kill other human beings is something that existed long before Paris and, unfortunately, I would suspect, will continue to exist long after.

SHAPIRO: And is that your message to your congregants? I mean, what are you saying to them?

LINDEN: I try, frankly, to avoid theology in the aftermath of events like Paris. I try to speak to my community about the power that we have to represent a different notion of humanity and also of God in the world. And I speak, also, from a place of Jewish history, which has, unfortunately, over millennia, experienced many losses, much persecution. And yet, in some ways, the hopeful message that our history gives us is that of our survival, despite the attempts by human evil to destroy us.

SHAPIRO: That's Rabbi Ethan Linden Shir Chadash Congregation in New Orleans. Thank you, Rabbi Linden.

LINDEN: Thank you very much.

SHAPIRO: And joining us now in the studio is Imam Zia Makhdoom. He's the executive director of MakeSpace, which offers an alternative to traditional mosques for young American Muslims. Welcome to the show.

ZIA MAKHDOOM: Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: We've been talking with different faith leaders about what the phrase Pray for Paris means in each person's congregation. What does that phrase, Pray for Paris, mean to you and people who come to MakeSpace?

MAKHDOOM: For us, Pray for Paris is a reiteration of our common bonds as humanity, a reiteration of a teaching that's very fundamental to Islam, which is the brotherhood of humanity, which is the fact that all human beings are servants of God and that we are all equal in the sights of God and that we deserve judgment about what happens to people in the hereafter. We leave that to God. As far as this world is concerned, we're all one and the same. And so that bond of humanity that we have, we are taught that we're like one body. If one organ or limb hurts, the rest of the body is restless as well. So when we pray for Paris, we pray because we're hurting.

SHAPIRO: How does it feel to be praying for human oneness and unity at a time when this message of oneness seems threatened to be drowned out by messages of division?

MAKHDOOM: If you look at what's being covered in the media and when you look at social media, that definitely seems to be the case. And that's why it's even more important for people of conscience, for people who believe in humanity and in the oneness of humanity to speak out. I feel there's a lot of pressure on the Muslim community every time a tragedy strikes for us to speak out and to condemn. I think we can equally ask that same question of people of other faiths and others, regardless of whether they believe and are part of a faith or not, for them to speak out against what we have been hearing, the kind of divisive attitudes and statements that people have made, the way they brush all Muslims with this one brush exactly the way ISIS wants that to be. That's very unfortunate, and I think we need a lot of support from people of other faiths to stand up for that oneness of humanity that we just alluded to.

SHAPIRO: Imam Zia Makhdoom is the executive director of MakeSpace here in the Washington, D.C., area. Thank you very much for joining us.

MAKHDOOM: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: And earlier, we heard from Ali Chambers, the lead pastor of Mosaic, an evangelical church in Memphis, Tenn., and Rabbi Ethan Linden from New Orleans, where he leads Congregation Shir Chadash. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.