Sunday, October 28, 2018
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
In church this morning, my prayers were filled with thoughts of yesterday's horrific attack at Tree of Life Synagogue. I imagine that yours were as well. Especially as we listened to the Hebrew scripture and recited the psalm, the presence and pain of the Jewish community, both in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh and around the world, felt very immediate.
St. Andrew's Church, Akron, the site of my visitation today, is surrounded by an immigrant community. The congregation has a vibrant ministry mentoring the Bhutanese and Nepalese children of the neighborhood. It felt a particularly poignant place to gather in grief and spiritual solidarity with people around the world trying to come to terms with this profound act of anti-Semitic hatred and violence.
Following the service, I received word that the brother-in-law of a colleague on the Kenyon College Board of Trustees was one of the eleven killed. Such heartbreak is often closer to home than we think.
While the murders at Tree of Life were the actions of one hate-filled soul, they were equally the consequence of a polarized, weaponized, and increasingly xenophobic America. Only two days before, two people were gunned down in a Kentucky grocery store after the gunman had tried unsuccessfully to enter the First Baptist Church of Jeffersontown, a predominantly African American congregation. And throughout the week, more than a dozen pipe bombs were discovered by the U.S. Postal Service, the intended targets all prominent members and supporters of one political party, just as the targets of the 2017 Congressional baseball team shooting were members of the other party.
In the face of such violence and division, we are vulnerable to feeling hopeless and helpless, as well as to increased polarization. That is, of course, precisely what the power of evil wants. Only when we are separated from one another does it win. But we are neither without hope, nor without help, because the God of Abraham is with us and has given us to one another as sisters and brothers, children of the same God.
Anti-Semitism is anathema to Christian faith. We are disciples of Jesus, a Jewish teacher to whom we refer in our own scripture as rabbi
, the Savior who taught the Torah and kept the laws of Moses. We hold fast to the love he demands of each of us - love your neighbor, love your enemy, love one another. And we are empowered by the spirit of holiness to resist evil, not by taking up arms, but by opening our arms.
Jesus's response to hatred and violence is always the disarming power of love. And it behooves people of faith, of every faith, not only to stand together, but to act together, to act on behalf of one another
and on behalf of the other
, whoever that may be - the stranger, the down-trodden, and the disenfranchised; the brokenhearted, the underserved, and all victims of injustice; the disdained and the disdainful, the hated and the hateful, and all who are different from us in ethnic heritage, religious tradition, political conviction, or any other way.
In response to these acts of evil, let us come together, stand together, and act together to heal the world that God loves and has given us to share. Because we all belong to God, we all belong to each other.
In God's holy love,
The Rt. Rev. Mark Hollingsworth, Jr.
Bishop of Ohio