This past weekend saw another shooting, in another synagogue, only six months after the murders at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.
While bullets caused the death and the injuries, it was bad theology that put the gun in the killer’s hand. It was a theology of hatred, dehumanization, and white supremacy.
The shooter’s own words reveal that he believed a lie that has been embraced by the KKK, Hitler and countless others who have sought to justify their hatred by wrapping them in ignorant interpretations of the Christian Bible.
In this instance, it was the centuries-old lie that all Jews should be held responsible for the death of Jesus.
Every major Christian denomination has denounced this terrible, wrong and sinful interpretation of the Bible. Since the Second Vatican Council, the Roman Catholic Church has emphasized that Jews are not liable for the death of Jesus. The two most recent Popes have reiterated that stance, with Pope Francis going so far as to say that anti-Semitism is “a complete contradiction” of Christianity.
Other denominations, including my own Presbyterian Church (USA), have issued condemnations of anti-Semitism, which I wholeheartedly reaffirm.
There is no justification for holding Jews responsible for Jesus’ execution by the Roman government. (If anyone has any questions about that, I invite them to contact me, and I will be glad to explain.)
Recent reports have revealed that this shooter was raised in a Presbyterian home, and his father has served as an elder.
As an ordained Presbyterian minister, this was a particular horror to me. I immediately felt the need to make sure people knew that he was not a member of “my” denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), but rather a much smaller group (the “OPC”).
His parents condemned his actions using words tinged with shock, grief and sorrow.
To my Jewish “siblings” in God’s family, please allow me to add my condemnation of his despicable actions and theology. Please know that your Christian “siblings” are heartbroken that our faith has been misused, once again, to persecute yours.
After the Tree of Life shooting, the Plattsburgh community came together for a service at Temple Beth Israel where representatives from the Christian community joined with our friends from the Jewish community in solidarity and support.
As part of that service, I offered a “Confession of Sin” for the times when we in the Christian community have remained silent in the face of ignorance, bigotry and hatred.
Those are the seeds that, when planted, become the roots from which anti-Semitism grows, from which sexism grows, from which homophobia grows, from which racism grows. Nothing of God grows from hatred.
We who call ourselves Christians cannot merely offer our “thoughts and prayers” to those who are being hurt or killed by the fruit of that poisonous tree.
We believe that all people were created in God’s image; therefore we must speak up whenever words are used to dehumanize any group of people. The time for silence has passed. We cannot allow our fears and our comfort to silence us while people are dying.
Jesus never once called His followers to safe or comfortable lives. As Edmund Burke wrote, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.”
That does not mean we need to be hateful or angry in our response to hateful or angry words. We are called to speak the truth in love. Even if all we can say at first is “No, I disagree,” at least we will have broken our silence.
Let us have the courage to say: “No, I will not listen to you speak that way about a child of God” if we hear hate-filled or dehumanizing words used to describe any person or group.
Let us say: “No, Jesus taught me to love the stranger” when others try to make us fear them.
Let us stand with the ones whom society ignores or disregards: the outsider, the weak, the needy the powerless.
For as often as we do it for “the least of these,” we do it for Jesus.
— The Rev. Dr. Timothy J. Luoma has been an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) since 1998. He is pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Plattsburgh.