From the unprovoked war in Ukraine, to divisive national and state politics to violence on the streets of Little Rock, five leaders of Arkansas’ religious community gathered May 6 to speak about the importance of peace at an interfaith prayer breakfast.
It was held in the Cathedral of St. Andrew’s McDonald Hall as part of the Pulaski County Bar Association’s Law Week. It was co-sponsored by the St. Thomas More Society, a statewide Catholic organization for lawyers and anyone who works within the legal system.
About 100 members of St. Thomas More and the local bar association attended.
With a theme of “Peace in Our Families, Our Communities and Our World,” Bishop Larry Benfield of the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas, Rabbi Barry Block of the Congregation B’nai Israel, Rev. Marion Humphrey of Allison Memorial Presbyterian Church and Imam Mohammed Nawaz of the Madina Institute and Mosque, all of Little Rock, and Bishop Anthony B. Taylor spoke on how faith and law impact the pursuit of peace globally, nationally, locally and in homes.
The event was organized by bar association president Marjorie Rogers, St. Thomas More president Jim Goodhart, who will be ordained a deacon in June, and Shawn Johnson, St. Thomas More’s immediate-past president.
Rogers said this was the first of what she hopes will become an annual event.
“It was really important for us to be as inclusive as we could for the members of the Pulaski County Bar Association, but also for the community,” she said. “With everything going on in the world right now, we want to give our members in the community a message of peace and prayer and to make sure everyone knows that peace starts with us.”
Johnson said the event was created to add a faith component to Law Week, which celebrates the development of the legal system.
“For many years, we’ve run the St. Thomas More Red Mass, which is now in the fall. It used to be during Law Week,” he said. “We noticed that a religious component was missing from Law Week when we moved the Red Mass and thought this would be a meaningful celebration of faith. It was actually Bishop Taylor’s suggestion that it be a celebration of all faiths. That unifying principle of peace is something that is very common to all of us.”
Bishop Taylor said, “It’s a very desirable thing to gather together to promote peace in our families, community and in our world and spend some time reflecting on the demands of peace, its importance and what we can do to promote it. It was a nice expression of faith across different religions. The desire for peace and prayer for peace is at the heart of all of them.”
The ears of those in attendance perked up when Imam Nawaz said attorneys and pastors have the most power to bring peace and justice to communities.
“Attorneys have a voice. They have a platform. They’re authorized legally to speak up for justice, and they also know the law and proper protocols. Pastors, we get to address our congregations without any advertisement, without marketing …” he said. “We have a platform to deliver the positive message and to bring peace and to speak against any injustice or against any violence in the world.”
Rev. Humphrey, a retired judge, said, “It’s wonderful God put us on this planet together, and I think he intends that together we work things out in a way that is fair, just, righteous and loving. We’re all concerned. How can human beings not be concerned and not have a heart for what’s happening to people? We need peace from the Lord to deal with all of this.”
Rabbi Block stirred the crowd with reference to Leviticus 19:9–10, which says part of the harvest should be left for “the poor and the alien.”
“There’s so much turmoil in the world right now, so it is an especially poignant moment to come together,” he said. “The struggle for peace is long. We have a long human history of a lot of war and bloodshed, not to mention interpersonal conflict. We’ve been promised a messianic future, a world of perfect peace and God will keep that promise with our help.”
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