Religious leaders in Central VA vow to bring people together

Published: Nov. 6, 2017 at 5:27 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 7, 2017 at 11:05 AM EST
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Rabbi Michael Knopf of Temple Beth-El and Pastor Jim Somerville of First Baptist Church reacted Monday to the mass shooting at a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, that killed 28 and injured two dozen.

"My heart absolutely breaks for that community and for the people of Texas," Knopf said.

"I've become angry," Somerville said, "because, when I think about years ago we were trying to get a man to the moon, and if the rockets didn't have enough thrust we worked on that. We fixed it. I don't know why we can't fix this problem in America."

Both Knopf and Somerville say they already have security outside of their houses of worship.

"We have a uniformed police officer on the premises every Sunday morning," Somerville said. "Our ushers and greeters are trained and we have a security team that is very active."

"We have security for worship every week," Knopf said. "That is not directly related to what happened in Texas, but it's related to, unfortunately, being a Jewish congregation in 2017."

This is a topic that could be discussed at Knopf's new public forum called "Encounter RVA."

It will be a public conversation between diverse local leaders and the community, hosted on the first or second Wednesday of every month.

"It strikes me that right now in this moment we have a lot of divisions in our society a lot of people who aren't interacting with each other, understanding each other," Knopf said. "We developed Encounter RVA as a way to address that challenge of bridging divides and building relationships across a diverse swath of people."

The first Encounter RVA forum is happening from 7-9 p.m. this Wednesday, Nov. 8 at The Hof Garden at 2818 West Broad St. in Richmond. Knopf and Somerville will lead the discussion, but it is open to public and community input. The event is free.

The next event will be Dec. 6 and Knopf will lead the discussion with Imam Ammar Amonette of the Islamic Center of Virginia.

Future leaders who will host dialogues include a Lutheran pastor and Catholic priest, as well as a Rabbi having a conversation with a Palestinian activist.

There will be conversations about race relations, women's issues, LGBTQ inclusion and conversations among liberals, conservatives, evangelicals, Jews, Muslims and Buddhists. Knopf says he wants to include a rainbow of perspectives.

Topics that could be discussed include terrorism, bullying, race relations, religious freedom, immigration, refugee issues, war, peace, Israel and Palestine, economics justice issues and politics.

The conversations will highlight similarities and differences with the overarching message that our dissimilarities shouldn't divide us, but bring us together, organizers say.

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