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War and forgiveness

March 24, 2003

For many people of faith, war remains an unsettling topic, raising difficult questions. For example, for Christians, who've been taught that "Thou shalt not kill," when does the situation become so dire, the government so oppressive, that it justifies taking another's life?

That topic and others will be explored Tuesday, April 1 in downtown Hagerstown, in a program put on by the Interfaith Coalition of Washington County.

The group, formed after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 with the help of former county commissioner Ron Bowers, has held a number of programs to try to increase understanding between those of different religious faiths.

On April 1 at 7 p.m. at the Frostburg State University community room, on West Washington Street near Hagerstown's Public Square, the group will discuss "Faith and War."

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The event had originally been planned as a discussion of the how the different faiths - Christianity, Judaism and Islam - view the issue of church and state. When war seemed imminent, the organizers decided "Faith and War" was a more timely topic.

One issue certain to surface at this meeting is the topic of forgiveness, as in: At one point does someone or some group forgive those who victimized them during wartime?

In South Africa, after decades of apartheid and rebellion, the new majority-rule government developed the concept of reconciliation commissions. In exchange for confessing their wrongdoings, those guilty of oppressing citizens during the time of apartheid were allowed to avoid prosecution.

Such a system wouldn't be enough in extreme cases, like the Holocaust perpetrated against German Jews by Hitler's forces. But subsequent generations of Germans have acknowledged what went on, and that it was wrong. For many, that's not enough, but it's a start.

The quest of the interfaith group - and one that all Americans should embrace - is the search for ways to live together in peace, despite our many differences.

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