On Saturday, April 27, a gunman killed one person and injured three people at a Jewish synagogue in Poway, California. On Easter Sunday, suicide bombers attacked three churches in Sri Lanka. Last month, 50 people were killed in attacks on mosques in New Zealand. On October 27, 11 people were killed by a gunman at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue. The motivations behind these attacks are complex and difficult to identify. They include hate for those who are different, vengeance, anti-Semitism, white nationalist ideology, and self-radicalization supported by social media. They display the dark and hateful underside of inhumanity, the sad reality of humans who have lost touch with basic humanity. It is truly sad, and it is particularly disturbing that these recent acts of violence have occurred at places of worship. One thread tying each of these incidents together is that the perpetrators intended to strike at their victims where they were expressing their deepest beliefs and where they expected to be safe.
But those who resort to such tactics will never succeed. On Easter, we celebrate God’s victory of life over death, and the victory of love over hate. All of the world’s major religions, including Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, are based upon teachings of love. The overwhelming majority of their leaders and their adherents are committed to trying to learn about and understand each other and to work together for the good of humanity. Unfortunately, these efforts don’t make the headline news like shootings and bombings do. For example, last Sunday, as part of our confirmation program, Hugh and Kathy Howerton gave a presentation on the religion of Islam to help our confirmation students learn about those who worship God in a different way than we do. It didn’t make the headlines, but it was important.
Several dozen people gathered on a corner in Poway on Sunday to show their support for the victims and to call for an end to hate and violence. A young boy sat with a cardboard sign reading “we must do better.” Indeed, there are signs all around us reminding us that there is hope and that we are better than this.
Rabbi Myers of the Tree of Life Synagogue offered some profound reflections after the Christchurch massacre. May we not only ponder his words but adopt the practices he advocates:
As I take a step back to take it all in, permit me to share my view from 30,000 feet. After the horror in Tree of Life, I took an oath a scant two weeks later at a rally at Point State Park, in downtown Pittsburgh, that stated that the word ‘hate’ is an obscenity, just like other four-letter words. I, and many others, now refer to it as the ‘H word.’
…But while H speech is not going to disappear any time soon, I have seen that it does not remotely reflect the attitude of all the people on this planet. Within minutes of the massacre at Tree of Life, words of love flooded my email and social media accounts. Strangers of different faiths shared in their grief and dismay, and offered comfort, strength and hugs. The sheer volume of communication from people across the planet, which continues unabated, provides a loving reminder that the vast majority of human beings on this planet are good, decent people. They felt my pain, and could not understand how a fellow human being could inflict such carnage upon other human beings. They wanted to reassure me that this is not a reflection of humanity, but an aberration. And they are right.
The message of Easter is that love is stronger than hate, and that life is stronger than death. We must work to overcome the messages of hate in our world, and we must pray that the messages of love will be heard by those whose hearts have been filled with hate. We must and we can do better.
Blessings and Peace,