In the past seven months...
Jews died while saying their prayers. On October 27, 2018, a man with weapons burst into the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh shouting, “All Jews must die.” He immediately killed 11 people.
Muslims died while saying their prayers. On March 15, 2019, 50 people were killed and 50 others wounded when gunmen opened fire at the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Christians died while saying their prayers. On Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019, gunmen entered 3 churches in Sri Lanka and opened fire. Also at 3 hotels! Over 250 people died.
Fred Rabner, who attends the Tree of Life Synagogue, knew full well that his former rabbi had been shot and that swastikas had been painted on the doors of the sanctuary. When the recent slaughter happened, he said:
“This is our turn. It is just another in a long line of shootings and tragedies. And it just has to stop. We gotta do something.”
His words stay with me, especially “This is our turn” and “ . . . We gotta do something.”
“This is our turn.” (Passive.) The impression behind these words is that, in the days ahead, persecution and death are certainly possible if you a Jew, Muslim or Christian. No sacred space is now off limits. In bucolic Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh, or the safest place on earth, New Zealand, or on an island in the Indian Ocean, if you join with fellow worshippers, you could be someone’s target. Religiously motivated violence is real. Someone will see your holy space as his or her theater to stage a one-act of drama of blood-letting. “This is our turn” means that others will be taking their turn, as well. Nothing will change this. Not security checkpoints at churches or packing guns at mosques or armed guards in synagogues. Worshipping God together means making yourself vulnerable and is an act of personal courage.
“…it just has to stop. We gotta do something.” (Aggressive.) But what is that “something?” We can look at what naturally took place after the three murder scenes. Each time, folks of the other religious traditions rallied around those in grief. Christians and Muslims cared for the Jews. Jews and Muslims cared for the Christians. Jews and Christians cared for the Muslims. Spontaneously! But beyond, nurture on a single occasion, “We gotta do something” permanently. What could that be?
- Unite, with people of various religions, on an enduring, daily basis.
- Reverse the dehumanizing patterns of the extremists who have convinced their children that Jews are bad, that Christians are evil and that Muslims are of the devil. In order to end religiously motivated violence we have to humanize the world and respect the people of other religions.
- We have to connect the dots of hateful actions – Pittsburgh, Christchurch and Sri Lanka are one reality. They are an outgrowth of a culture of deadly divisiveness. In order to counter this, we have to create a culture of radical inclusivity among the people of religions. And not just in theory but in real actions together.
For everyone who has felt the shock of religious violence and connected the dots and said, “We gotta do something,” URI offers you a great big “something.”