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Clergy Speak of Evil and Suffering, Love and Strength

Mina Lester greets the Rev. Peter James, pastor of Vienna Presbyterian Church, following yesterday's service. James scrapped his original theme to focus on the Virginia Tech slayings.
Mina Lester greets the Rev. Peter James, pastor of Vienna Presbyterian Church, following yesterday's service. James scrapped his original theme to focus on the Virginia Tech slayings. (By Dayna Smith For The Washington Post)

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"We learned evil is real and evil can hurt us, but God's love is real," Pace said. He attributed the tragedy not to God but to falling away from God. And he told congregants that God could bring calm to their chaos.

"People are really searching for something to take hold of," said Mike Farino, a senior building and construction major. A musician, he said he took comfort in singing.

For many of the area's Korean Americans, who are predominantly Christian, yesterday's services were another attempt to grapple with the fact that the killer was one of their own -- a Korean American who had grown up in the Washington area.

A number of Korean-born immigrants have apologized for the actions of the gunman. At a candlelight vigil at the Fairfax County Government Center last week, Korean Ambassador Lee Tae Sik, a devout Christian, called on the Korean American community to "repent."

But yesterday, some clergy members who minister in Korean American churches told their congregations that shame and guilt are not necessary.

"You have nothing to apologize for," the Rev. Jim Shirlena, a pastor at Global Mission Church, a predominantly Korean Baptist church in Silver Spring, told worshipers yesterday. "A deranged individual acted on his own, not on behalf of any group. . . . We are all victims. We all suffer together. This is a time of grief and mourning, not a time of shame and apology."

Outside the church, Jamie Lee and Soo Hong said they believed it was appropriate for Korean American leaders to apologize for Cho's actions.

"I don't feel the need to apologize personally," said Lee, 23, an Olney pharmacy technician. "It was some crazy dude. But it makes us look bad."

"We are in a minority," added Hong, 25, a biotech analyst. "There might be a backlash against us. We don't know."

Many clergy members acknowledged that even those with a strong religious faith will have trouble reconciling the harsh reality of the massacre with their faith in a just God.

Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, said in an interview last week that preachers who offered up pat religious bromides from the pulpit yesterday risked sounding trite or shallow.

He cited the Old Testament story of Job, a righteous man who was subjected to a series of unjust afflictions, including the deaths of his children. After first protesting his innocence with God, the Bible says that Job ultimately resolves to "lay my hand on my mouth" and trust God.

Like Job's story, Cromartie said, "there are times when we have to put our hands over our mouth and say, 'God help us. This is really hard.' "

Staff writers Yolanda Woodlee and Michael Alison Chandler contributed to this report.


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