Even as we grieve for the many people who were killed in the sectarian attack on the All Saints Church in Peshawar, Pakistan, we express our outrage at the brutal attack at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. We extend our deepest sympathies to all who have lost loved ones and pray for the speedy recovery of the many who have been wounded. We pray for the Kenyan authorities who are responsible for identifying and bringing to justice those who were involved in the attack, and for their efforts to ensure greater security in the future. We are also holding our partners, the Presbyterian Church of East Africa, in our prayers as they respond to the crisis: ministering to the families of the victims and continuing their crucial ministry of peacemaking.

The specter of terrorism is never far from our minds, given what seem almost weekly bombings in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other troubled spots around the world. Yet the mass murder perpetrated by al-Shabaab terrorists at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, brings this closer to home, given the international range of victims and the possibility that among the perpetrators were persons from Great Britain and the United States. It also lifts up the importance of the African Union and the United Nations in addressing this kind of violence.

We know that such unspeakable acts are often the work of those who, convinced of the righteousness of their cause, are willing to go to any violent extreme in the service of that cause.

They are motivated sometimes by political factors, often by sectarian convictions and frequently by both. As our president has said in a recent address, it is incumbent upon us all to see that we never give in to the temptation to consider the violence around us, both nationally and internationally, as some kind of “new normal.”

As Christians, we are aware of the way sin and evil coexist with hope and fear. To witness to the Gospel is to keep a vision of the “peaceable kingdom” in view, and to respect the humanity of others whom God has also created. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is itself engaged in a peace discernment process, looking at the violent struggles we have been part of over the past decade. We know that the hard work of reconciliation and the prevention of violence can take years of healing, steadfast leadership, and requires new and creative peacemaking initiatives.

Let us remember that there are far more of us who are committed to peace and civility than those who are bent on destroying others with whom they disagree. Let us not only join our voices in the cause of peace; but also let us exercise our political will in our own nation and in the community of nations to break the cycles of desperation and revenge.