Dear People of God in the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania:
On hearing the news that a number of people had been murdered during Saturday morning services at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh by a gunman shouting anti-Semitic statements, my friend Elizabeth Drescher took to Twitter, where she offered these verses from Psalm 55:
My heart is in anguish within me,
the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fear and trembling come upon me,
and horror overwhelms me.
The words of the psalmist—indeed, any words—are inadequate to express my deep grief and condolences to the Jewish community of Pittsburgh and to Jewish people across the country who are reeling from this hate-filled attack on peaceful people at prayer. There is no place in our churches, our communities, or our country for anti-Semitism.
The verses speak not only to this latest mass shooting, but also to the reality of our daily lives in a time of increasing ideological and partisan violence. Earlier this week, a gunman shot two black shoppers at a Kroger’s near Louisville, but did not shoot a white man, to whom he said, “Whites don’t shoot whites.” News of this outrage competed for airtime with another, as pipe bombs were mailed to prominent critics of President Trump.
My friends in Christ, we are in the grip of a spiritual sickness. This illness manifests itself in our debased civil discourse, which is rife with charge and countercharge but lacks individuals willing to take responsibility for the violence their rhetoric spawns. It makes itself known both in the massacres of innocent people and the cowardice of a Congress unwilling even to consider legislation that would keep weapons such as the AR-15 used in today’s shooting out of the hands of hate-filled ideologues. And while the sickness demeans and endangers every one of us, it presents a particular threat to religious, racial, ethnic and sexual minorities whose lives are held cheap by those whom reckless politicians and pundits incite.
In circumstances such as these the church has a mission: to comfort the afflicted, to sow seeds of peace, and to advocate for justice. In prayerful humility, let us be about it.