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Denouncing Hate Speech

The Penn religious communities and individual members of a variety of faith traditions have exhibited an extraordinary degree of commitment to unity and to each other in the face of enormous challenges since September 11. No less than 15 interfaith vigils, dialogues, panels, symposiums and services have been organized by Penn students since the horrors of early September 2001. The language and rhetoric of a variety of faiths encouraged many, even some who lay no claim to religious faith but who appreciated the role of religious ritual in uniting us in our common commitment to each other and in mourning the dead.

Penn's welcoming environment and active interfaith and intercultural groups made it possible to move quickly and organize intellectually honest panels and deeply moving services, but it was the rhetoric of the language in each tradition that spoke to a broad social vision that gained the assent of all who attended these events. Among Penn interfaith groups and activities our strength lies in a well established practice of mutual regard and respect for each other as women and men of faith. This strength, born of the willingness of so many in the Penn community to extend themselves to others and beyond their own comfort zones, is central to the quality of our relations and is one of the marks of this institution.

We have struggled to maintain this practice of mutual respect and regard over recent weeks. The bloody clashes in the Middle East have strained some of our relationships and have left some of us angry, afraid, and intensely anxious. On both sides of this conflict several in the Penn community have family and close friends who are at risk of their lives. Some of us are confused and disoriented and all of us are intensely concerned. A few have made passionate, harsh statements and outrageous charges about one side or the other. Appropriately, Penn students have spoken out against verbal antagonisms and hate speech. I join them in denouncing hate speech. To be sure, there is much to be passionate about as we look on, often feeling helpless, while this conflict rages on and people die horrible deaths in a place that is holy to the three Abrahamic traditions. Moreover, the outcome of this conflict has implications for so many outside the communal and creedal boundaries of these three religions. My hope is that at the very least we will use our physical distance from the actual fighting to strengthen our rhetorical language for unity, not division. At its root, religion suggests "binding together." We all know that there have been terrible examples throughout history in which religion has been used to fracture and separate. At its best, it has brought disparate parties and bitter enemies together to strive for the beloved community. Religious language and rhetoric are freighted with enormous power to provoke and to engage; to belittle and to inspire; to dismiss and to embrace; to curse and to bless. At Penn we have demonstrated as recently as last semester that we can mine the most generous rhetoric and capacious language of our various religious traditions to hold each of us in our fragility and encourage each in hope. Our hope is for that world envisioned by African American poet and author Margaret Walker in her poem, For My People: "a world that will hold all the people, all the faces, all the adams and eves and their countless generations."

For people of faith, I believe that if we save our most passionate language for prayer, praise and promise-keeping it will tutor us in the art of judicious and civil language in our public engagements.

--William Gipson,University Chaplain

Almanac, Vol. 48, No. 32, April 30, 2002


April 30, 2002
Volume 48 Number 32

School of Social Work selects three recipients for Excellence in Teaching Awards.
Robin Beck will succeed Jim O'Donnell at ISC when he leaves for Georgetown.
Virginia Clark leaves Penn for a newly created post at the Smithsonian.
Penn's Chaplain denounces hate speech.
The Bridge: Cinema De Lux comes to 40th and Walnut.
The Museum is preparing to open its new wing and courtyard to the community with several celebrations, tours and a new exhibition.
Retirement seminars for investors of all ages and at all stages of planning.
Procedures for the establishment, merger, and closing of departments, divisions and entities within schools.