The latest mass shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue rightly revolts us all. It was a hideous act, as were the shootings at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, the Sikh Gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston – and too many others. To be sure, the President and his minions and MAGA-hatted sycophants (whom he has given permission and encouragement to be vicious and vile) bear a large responsibility for the climate where we may be shocked but not surprised that an avowed anti-Semite would appear to delight in slaughtering Jewish folks.
But this latest shooting also possesses a special kind of hideousness for those of us who are liberal mainline Christians. Reading the vile rants of the alleged shooter ought to give those of us in those traditions a queasy moment. Anti-Judaism is the “original sin” of Christianity, and too often its modern-day form has been aided and abetted by too many sermons from too many pulpits that uncritically take the sometimes awful words in the Gospels about “the Jews” literally, without any attempt to interpret how the gospel of John, particularly, is the record of a “family fight” where things are said (as in most family fights) that simply aren’t true – then or now. What’s more, those of us who claim liberal mainline Protestantism as our theological home also bear some responsibility for creating such a climate in other ways too. When churches and pastors do not annually observe Yom HaShoah but do regularly and uncritically offer passion plays and Good Friday observances and their ilk which uncritically repeat these hideous lies about our ancestors in the faith, then we err on the side of historical fatuousness and theological ingratitude – and we make it just a little more possible for anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and anti-Jewish violence to flourish. We also need to remember that as a nation we are also culpable in actions that sent the clear message that Jews are simply not to be valued as much as Christians. When we fail to confess that part of the reason for today’s situation is the United States’ and other nations’ refusal to take in Jewish refugees in World War II and the refusal to bomb the railways that made the “Final Solution’s” camps possible, we tacitly deny that such actions (or lack of actions!) are the historical but very real progenitors of today’s increasing anti-Jewish violence and vandalism; they give an historical imprimatur to what is happening now.
Thoughts and prayers? Always. But they are not enough without the confession that we who call ourselves liberal Protestant Christians have too often exacerbated by our own words and pronouncements and practices and sermons and Bible studies the anti-Judaism that is increasing in our country. Those who preach, particularly from the Gospel of John, need to always make sure that they have studied works like Clark Williamson’s and Ron Allen’s Preaching the Gospel Without Blaming the Jews before stepping into the pulpit. We can and should publicly repudiate the odious right-wing fundamentalist view of Israel (and its own anti-Jewish ideology) without also repudiating that Israel, theologically, bears a special place in our affections as the homeland of the people onto whom we Christians were graciously grafted by God. Likewise, we can honor our Muslim brothers and sisters and cousins in the overarching Abrahamic family of faith without necessarily execrating our Jewish extended family members.
It is possible to do both. But it will take confession. And it will take nuance – a virtue seemingly disallowed in our current civic discourse. And it will take all sides abjuring theological triumphalism that inevitably demonizes and objectifies certain folks and leads too frequently to despicable expressions of hatred in too many places — and now in Pittsburgh.
I hope we want to try. For the sake of ALL those whom God loves and expects justice for, I hope we want to try.