October 18, 2012

In the spirit of strengthening community efforts to decrease violence in Multnomah County, about 70 faith leaders and county officials attended the Interfaith Peace & Nonviolence Summit on Oct. 17 hosted by Commissioner Loretta Smith.

Faith leaders and county officials came to the summit to share strategies and made connections in their work dealing with the problems of elder abuse; human trafficking and the commercial sexual exploitation of children; youth and gang violence; and domestic violence.

Elected county leaders attending the summit included Commissioners Diane McKeel and Deborah Kafoury, Sheriff Dan Staton and District Attorney-elect Rod Underhill.

Commissioner Smith welcomed them and all the people attending the summit by urging participants to work together to “build a loud moral voice as one community.”

Before summit participants went into workshops to discuss each of the forms of violence, the commissioner’s message was amplified by three faith leaders -- Rabbi Michael Cahana of Congregation Beth Israel; Gulzar Ahmed of the Muslim Educational Trust and the Rev. Dr. T. Allan Bethel or Maranatha Church.

Each shared the peace and nonviolence traditions from their own faiths.

“All faiths profess the importance of nonviolence and yet violence exists,” Ahmed told the gathering. “We must take up nonviolence all the time and speak up when we see violent acts against anyone.”

After the workshops, summit participants reconvened to share what they’d learned in a group discussion moderated by Barbara Willer, interfaith coordinator for Multnomah County.

Participants discussed the value of knowing all the county resources that are available and the prospect of county staff offering trainings to faith communities about ways to combat domestic violence; youth and gang violence; human trafficking and the commercial sexual exploitation of children; and elder abuse.

“This was a great beginning and we’re excited about it,” said Bishop Steven Holt, of International Family Fellowship Church.

Commissioner Smith said she was energized by the idea of organizing a weekend when every faith leader would do a sermon on violence, and have county officials offer peace and nonviolence workshops on that same weekend for faith communities.

Commissioner Smith said the summit’s dialogue was powerful, helpful and honest.

“This was a huge first step going forward,” she said. “There’s a spirit of collaboration in this room between the county and all of the faith leaders who are here today. I feel a real energy and momentum in this room that we must continue to grow.

“Our challenge of course is to maintain that momentum and energy when we leave here,” she said. “It won’t be easy. But we owe it to our community to build on what we achieved today…So when you leave here today to go back to your church or to your mosque, or to your synagogue, let’s not stay silent.”