In an open letter to Congress published today (Jan. 13) as a full-page advertisement in Roll Call newspaper, faith leaders are calling for national “soul searching” and praying for Members of Congress after Saturday’s shooting spree in Arizona, which left six people dead and Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, D-AZ, critically injured. 

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons is among the 50 prominent national religious leaders who signed the open letter. The signers include heads of mainline Protestant, Catholic, evangelical, Jewish and Muslim denominations, congregations, and organizations. 

The signers urge Members of Congress to reject vitriolic and rancorous rhetoric, consider the consequences of their words, and engage political adversaries in a spirit of shared American values of civility and cooperation.

Other signatories, in addition to Parsons, include megachurch pastors Bishop T.D. Jakes and Rev. Joel Hunter; the Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners; Nathan J. Diament, the Director of Public Policy for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America; and Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. 

The Rev. Peg Chemberlin, president of the National Council of Churches and the Rev. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the NCC, which represents 45 million people and 100,000 congregations in the U.S., and Rev. Sam Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, which serves 15 million Hispanic Christians, also signed the letter. 

The full text of the letter, which is also available online with a complete list of signatories:

Dear Members of Congress,

As Americans and members of the human family, we are grieved by the recent tragedy in Tucson, Arizona.  As Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders, we pray together for all those wounded, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords as she fights for her life.  Our hearts break for those lives lost and for the loved ones left behind.  We also stand with you, our elected officials, as you continue to serve our nation while coping with the trauma of this senseless attack.

This tragedy has spurred a sorely needed time of soul searching and national public dialogue about violent and vitriolic political rhetoric. We strongly support this reflection, as we are deeply troubled that rancor, threats and incivility have become commonplace in our public debates.

We appreciate the sacrifices you make and risks you incur by accepting a call to public service, and we urge you to continue to serve as stewards of our democracy by engaging ideological adversaries not as enemies, but as fellow Americans.

In our communities and congregations, we pledge to foster an environment conducive to the important and difficult debates so crucial to American democracy. In our churches, mosques and synagogues, we come together not as members of a certain political ideology or party, but as children of God and citizens called to build a more perfect union.  We pray that you do the same.