By Peggy Eastman
Several events at Washington National Cathedral marked the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“This is a tough day,” said the Rev. Shaun Casey, special representative for religion and global affairs at the U.S. State Department. Casey said that those gathered at the cathedral likely remembered exactly where they were when the hijacked planes crashed.
Casey preached at two services and spoke at a forum moderated by the Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, the cathedral’s dean.
The second service was an interfaith gathering that featured readings from Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh sources.
“We gather in this Cathedral Church to pray side by side: Buddhist, Christian, Jew, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, and all people of faith,” Dean Hollerith said, “to remember all affected by this tragedy and to proclaim that love is stronger than hate.”
“We in the West spend a lot of time hoping for and working toward fairy-tale endings in our global politics,” Casey said. While fairy-tale endings are rarely possible in an increasingly complex, pluralistic, and chaotic world, “peace of a sort” is possible, and “peace of a sort beats no peace at all. … It beats violence any day of the week.”
Peace of a sort is possible when “complex, flawed, ordinary human beings come together” to do “the myriad concrete acts that push back the frontiers of evil that surround us,” said Casey, who holds a doctorate in theology from Harvard Divinity School. These acts of hope include feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, comforting the grieving, and visiting the sick.
“In so doing we might help to achieve peace of a sort in our own time,” Casey said. “Humans would not have attained the possible if they had not time and again reached out for the impossible.”
As a biblical precedent for peace of a sort, Casey read Genesis 33:1-17, in which Esau — who was tricked by his younger brother out of his father’s inheritance — later greets Jacob with an embrace, kisses, and tears.
On leave from his job as a professor of ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, Casey is serving in a position created in 2013 by Secretary of State John Kerry. Kerry recognizes that religion was an important part of global diplomacy, Casey said.
Asked by Dean Hollerith what can be done to avoid another 9/11, Casey said Americans must become “more religiously literate,” but “I’m not sure that has happened since 9/11.”
He said that a student can graduate from an American high school “willfully ignorant of religion, and there’s no penalty for that.”
“Who is your neighbor?” asked Casey. If a neighboring family is of a different religious faith, taking the time to talk and get to know them is important, he said.
Casey said that in his travels to U.S. communities where refugees are being settled, often with the help of faith-based organizations, he has observed such communities grow stronger. “The amazing thing is the diversity and tapestry of different faith groups,” he said. “My belief is that this is making the United States stronger.”
Casey decried the embrace of stereotypes by some Americans who have never met a Muslim but believe all Muslims are violent. Stereotypes give people “false clarity,” he said.
False clarity is “deadly dangerous in foreign policy,” he said. “Our research shows that religion is rarely the main driver of radicalization.” Most often there are other trigger factors, such as economic and environmental issues.
Casey said that “memory, hatred, and fear” have always driven human behavior, and they are often intertwined. He decried pundits who make authoritative statements without considering the complexities of a global situation or event.
“This town has an insatiable desire for instant analysis,” Casey said of the nation’s capital. “There are complex, competing views around the world. We should resist the temptation to easy punditry.”
Casey urged resisting the messages of politicians who do not believe in the transformative power of love. “The hard-core political realists among us are wrong. People do change,” he said. “Love and transformation are possibilities.”
Casey, who travels the globe and has a staff of 30, said he sees his primary job in diplomacy as listening. “We meet people where they are in their particular vocations,” he said.
He recently visited Cypress, which has been a divided island since Turkey invaded it in 1974. Most Cypriots (78%) are Greek Orthodox Christians, while most Turkish Cypriots are Sunni Muslims. Casey said there is an active effort to unify the Turkish Republic of Northern Cypress and the Republic of Cypress. “We think this will have a ripple effect across Europe,” he said.
A reading from the Qur’an captured the theme of the services: “Goodness and evil are not equal. Repel the evil with the good.”