San Antonio Interfaith Leaders Unite to Create a “City of Compassion”
June 24, 2022
In 1911, our group of Catholic Sisters, the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word of San Antonio, Texas, went to Paris, Texas, to staff a hospital. The Klu Klux Klan of the area appeared on the lawn of the hospital using psychological violence to emphasize that Catholics were not wanted there. We didn’t leave. We stayed because we believe that our faith calls us to stay in loving presence and be healers in the face of violence. Lately, I have been among faith leaders in San Antonio, Texas, speaking together after the gun violence which massacred 19 children and 2 teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
When Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane and a crowd came to arrest him, one of Jesus’ friends, drew a sword and cut off the ear of one of people who came to take Jesus. Jesus said, “those who live by the sword, die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52). Then he reached out and healed the person’s ear. Jesus’ last act before being tied and taken to be killed was to reach out and heal someone who had come to harm him. Swords, guns, or any weapon will not ultimately keep us safe.
Reaching out in love to heal those who wish to harm us is the path towards more safety. Security will not come quickly or easily, but we walk in the right direction when we choose healing rather than harming. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Violence never drives at violence, only love can do that.”
Nonviolence education is the right direction. Social emotional intelligence is the right direction. In San Antonio, we have committed ourselves to be a “City of Compassion” and study compassion as a discipline, not just an ideal.
The deep wisdom of our faith traditions is the right direction. While in many of our sacred scriptures we have stories of killing other humans, we have an invitation to go deeper. Are these stories actually about the struggles that good may prevail over evil? We read of my tribe prevailing over your tribe in the past. Now are these stories calling us to a future of our human family untied by a loving Creator struggling together to prevail over evil, not destroy other human beings?
Religions can unite us to ask questions. In the face of resources needed for our children’s education, health and basic welfare, should resources be used for gigantic weapons of destruction? Religions can unite as we question the idolatry of guns as what can save us. Cultivating human relationships, much more than guns or any weapons, move towards saving our lives and our environment.
I cherish being among the founding group of the Interfaith San Antonio Alliance. We, a representative group of ISAA, united writing this open letter to the Governor of Texas. We shared wisdom of our individual faith traditions which unite us to speak for human life and to speak loudly for the lives of children.
An Open Letter to Governor Abbott
The horrors in Uvalde force us to remember the sacred losses experienced in Midland-Odessa, El Paso, Santa Fe, and Southerland Springs, and to acknowledge that gun violence ends a life every two hours in Texas. Texas’ gun laws are evidently flawed but passing gun safety legislation is difficult when one side sees the answer as fewer guns and the other sees the solution as more guns.
Do we simply stay at a stalemate while innocents are slaughtered?
Is the solution to a bad guy with a gun, a good guy with a gun? Such thinking reverses the Golden Rule and leads to Mahatma Gandhi’s insight, “An eye for an eye—until the whole world is blind.”
As we continue to pray and care for our brothers and sisters in Uvalde, we must consider additional ways to act. As one Texas pastor states, “My job is to pray, now our lawmakers must do their jobs.”
Your “job” is to listen and serve the people of Texas.
Within the Interfaith San Antonio Alliance devout faith leaders come together from many traditions and listen respectfully to each other’s perspective to find common ground. The Christian faith teaches, “In humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4) Sikhs teach that such humility is a formidable weapon in being free from self-justifying behavior.
In your commitment to govern, we pray that you follow the Jewish imperative shared in all world religions, love your neighbor as yourself. (Leviticus 19:18)
Is one neighbor’s right to bear arms more valuable than the life of another? More than 311,000 US citizens have experienced gun violence at school since Columbine in 1999. Surely this was not the intent of the framers of the Constitution.
Our systemic stubbornness on gun laws endangers everyone. As local faith leaders our intent is to work with you to make Texas a place where all are free to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. In humility, we must stop shouting sound bites and start listening to well-founded arguments.
For instance, mental health care is vital, but we cannot pretend this is the sole solution at hand. Are Americans vastly less mentally fit than Canadians, Australians, or the British? Though these countries do offer more accessible care, they also have serious gun safety laws. Both are needed to move forward.
Inaction is a refusal to protect lives.
The Interfaith San Antonio Alliance implores Governor Abbott to call a special session requiring legislators to:
- listen to us, your constituents, and to each other
- agree on clear goals addressing the epidemic of gun violence
- recognize victory is only achieved in protecting the innocent
“…whoever saves a life, it will be as if they saved all of humanity…” from Surah Al-Ma’idah in the Holy Qur’an.
May we work as one to save humanity.
Our children are counting on us.
Interfaith San Antonio Alliance Representatives
Rev. Wyndee E. Holbrook, Executive Director, Interfaith San Antonio Alliance
Dr. Lisa Epstein, Community Relations Council, Jewish Federation
Rabbi Lisa Goldstein, Congregation Shalom of San Antonio
Rev. Mignon Jones-Spann, Antioch Missionary Baptist Church
Sr. Martha Ann Kirk, Incarnate Word Sisters
Mr. Mehmet Oguz, Raindrop Foundation
Dr. G.P. Singh, Sikh Dharamsal
Rev. Joshua Woods, Episcopal Church of Reconciliation
Sister Martha Ann Kirk teaches at the University of the Incarnate Word and is involved in many groups and efforts to create a less violent world.