Statement on the Tree of Life Synagogue Murders and Our Lives Together

Eleven Dead in Attack on Jewish Service.

The headline came as it does these days, not as a shock – – for our society has become too violent for murder even on an unprecedented scale to shock — but as a clear sign that evil stalks the places we used to think of as safe – the synagogue, the mosque, the church, the school, the neighborhood business.

The Bible tells us God said, Thou shalt not kill or maybe better translated, You shall not commit murder … yet those who count such things say there have been over 11,000 killings by firearms so far this year, not to mention thousands of murders by other means that have left their victims just as dead. The phrase “sending thoughts and prayers” tastes like ashes on the tongue. Every school has active shooter drills. Every airport has full body scanners. Faith communities are urged to hire armed security guards.

As Richard Cohen of the Southern Poverty Law Center said upon hearing the news,

“It reminds us of the slaughter of nine African American worshipers at Charleston’s Mother Emmanuel Church in 2015, the killings of six Sikh worshipers at a temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, in 2014, and, of course, the bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963 that left four young African American girls dead.”

That bombing led Dr. King to say,

“We must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderer.”

Just this month we have seen 1) Antisemitism – the largest mass murder of Jews because of their religion in this country’s history; 2) White Nationalism – letter bombs mailed to over a dozen public figures all around the country; 3) Racism – a racial inspired shooting of two African Americans in Kentucky (after the shooter tried and failed to enter a predominantly black church); 4) A hate group calling itself Proud Boys has launched street attacks on LGBTQ people; and 5) Anti-immigrant actions from internment camps on the border to assaults on the streets. These are not separate one-off incidents, but common fruit of a philosophy of hatred.

Many voices urge us to move quickly past anger and grief to forgiveness and peace. But forgiveness without repentance is a cheap mercy that does not confront evil and call it by name. And a peace without justice is no peace, but mere silence and subjugation. If we do not confront evil and call it by name our times will grow even bleaker.

Anti-Semitism is Evil.

Racism is Evil.

White Nationalism is Evil.

Hating the immigrant, hating the stranger, and hating the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Queer is Evil.

We are called to love God and to love our neighbor, but that calling does not mean we are to accept evil or bow down before it. On the contrary, if the good church-going pillars of the community won’t combat evil, who will?

Presented by the Albany Presbytery Executive Team


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