Over 50 Religious Leaders Call for 'Soul Searching' in Letter to Congress

More than 50 prominent religious leaders, including megachurch pastors T.D. Jakes and Joel C. Hunter , have signed an open letter to members of Congress encouraging national "soul searching" and urging civil discourse in the aftermath of the tragic Arizona shooting.

The letter – signed by leaders across evangelical, mainline Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim faiths – was published in a full-page "Roll Call" ad on Thursday.

Notable also included notable Christian leaders The Rev. Canon Peg Chemberlin, president of National Council of Churches, which represents 45 million people; Rev. Jim Wallis, president and CEO of Sojourners; and Rev. Richard Cizik, president of New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good.

"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," opens the letter put together by Faith in Public Life, an organization that helps emerging religious leaders advance faith in the public square as a common good.

"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."

On Jan. 8, Jared Loughner opened fire at a public meeting organized by Giffords, who was shot in the head and remains in critical condition. The 22-year-old gunman shot 19 others, killing Federal District Judge John Roll, one of six who died during the rampage.

The Arizona shooting has sparked heated rhetoric by liberal media pundits and political leaders who blame their conservative counterparts for inciting violence and hatred in the political spectrum.

Some have mentioned Tea Party leader Sarah Palin whose political action committee's website used gun imagery to mark Democratic districts it was targeting in the November midterm. Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle has also been charged with using hate language on the campaign trail.

Many politicians and Christian leaders, including Franklin Graham, have issued statements to strongly denounce the finger pointing and urge public leaders to model civility in acts and speech.

The joint letter by faith leaders echoed the same sentiment.

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

Religious leaders also called upon Congress members to rather engage political adversaries in a spirit of shared American values of civility and cooperation.

"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," they urged in the letter.

Speaking at a Arizona memorial service for a shooting victim Wednesday, President Obama challenged Americans not to make "simple explanations."

"The truth is none of us can know exactly what triggered this vicious attack," he said. "What we cannot do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other."

Signers of the open letter pledged to "foster an environment conducive to the important and difficult debates so crucial to American democracy."

Their letter concluded, "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."

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