We need more righteous Gentiles.
At the Yad Vashem memorial in Israel, a memorial to those who perished during the “Shoah,” or Holocaust, there is a special designation for those who are called “Righteous Among the Nations.” The term is for the Gentiles, Christians, Muslims, and those of other religions and nations who, often at the cost of their lives, saved the lives of Jews who had been targeted for death.
I think about these courageous and faithful people this week for two reasons: Tomorrow, November 1, is All Saints’ Day, a day in which we remember those of “blessed memory,” who have lived lives of faith and now are dwelling with God — a place where “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21: 5-6). Certainly the Righteous Gentiles are numbered among these saints, and we give thanks.
But in addition, many of us are still living with the grief, the sadness, and even the anger that erupted last Saturday when 11 faithful Jews were attending a service in Pittsburgh, a place where they sought safety and comfort, and were killed in a massacre that was the worst anti-Semitic act of violence in American history.
This was not the only act of violence in a horrifying week. Earlier in the week, two African- Americans were shot and killed in a Kroger store in Kentucky after the gunman tried to enter an African-American church only to find it locked. They were shot simply because of their color.
And then there were the pipe bombs that were sent to a wide range of critics of the president’s policies, from politicians to news rooms to financial backers. They were targeted simply because of their politics.
“Lord have mercy,” I wrote on a post, “…again and again and again…”
Many were shocked at the outbreaks of such violence. But we should not have been. Incidents of anti-Semitic violence have increased 57% in the last two years. Hate crimes against African-Americans have increased 12%. One study shared that homicides against LGBT people increased 86% last year alone. And in the most recent non-partisan study (which is continually updated), there was an 86% rise in acts of violence against Muslims in the last year and a half.
Just two weeks before the massacre in Pittsburgh, I sent an article written by Rabbi Eric Yoffie to my friend and rabbi Micah Greenstein. “Mainstream American Jewry is terrified,” he wrote. “Those on the anti-Semitic fringe have been emboldened to come out from under their rocks and go after the Jews.” This was two weeks before the massacre on Saturday. We are grieving, sad and angry ... but no, we should not have been shocked.
So what is the response of faithful Christians? I wish I knew the answer. I can only respond as a Christian pastor, seeing “through a mirror dimly,” without sure and certain ways to respond, but living with the sure and certain conviction of the promise of God. So here are just a few thoughts, offered from one struggler in the faith to others:
- Micah shared with a community gathered last Sunday evening that Jews alone cannot stop anti-Semitism and hate. It is largely up to those of us who are not Jewish to speak up and act in solidarity with our Jewish brothers and sisters. In like manner, African-Americans alone cannot end racism. It is largely up to those of us who are white to listen to the fear and stories coming from black Americans. Hispanics and immigrants have been scapegoated as those who have “invaded” our nation, and because many are fearful of speaking out, it is up to us to speak on their behalf. The same thing holds true for those in the LGBT community, and so many others who have been deemed “the other,” somehow less than us. Before we can be “tellers of the Gospel,” we need to hear what others … of all faiths, nationalities, genders, and colors … can tell us about the love of God.
- It is time for lament in our lives and in our faith. The psalmist, the prophets, the author of Lamentations, and even Jesus denied efforts to push people out of chaos and as a result had a profoundly expanding capacity to hear the pain of the afflicted. Kathleen O’Connor writes, “Advice like ‘get over it,’ ‘get on with it,’ and ‘look on the bright side’ reinforces the dehumanization of the sufferers by refusing to accept their stammering efforts toward truth. Denial, whether in political, therapeutic, or pastoral arenas, cuts off healing, aborts true reconciliation, and replaces truth with lies.” She concludes that what is needed from Christians is not easy answers or dogmas or solutions, but participation in the suffering of God in the world through listening with new ears to hear the pain of the afflicted.
- We must speak the truth, and that truth stems from the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. I heard it said once that the Gospel in Germany in the 1930s was “Jesus was a Jew.” Jesus’ message was very Jewish. On occasion, especially on the cross, he asked where God was, or why God had forsaken him … a question he learned from his reading of the psalms. But more often he stood in the line of the great prophets of old and asked “Where are you? Where is humanity? And what does God require?” He knew the answer, and so do we: To do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8).
- We cannot — we dare not — succumb to the fear that is being thrown at us from those who seek simply to consolidate their own power at the expense of the Gospel. As I have said on a number of occasions, the opposite of love is not hate, but fear. “Perfect love casts out fear” (I John 4:18). The principalities and powers know that hate and fear can numb people into apathy. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us that the greatest obstacle to racial reconciliation was the apathy of “white moderates.
- Finally, when Jesus, good Jew that he was, was asked what the greatest commandment was, he answered with a response found in the scriptures that he so loved: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul and with all your mind … and you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:28-31). That is our calling, as simple — and as difficult — as that. It is in following his life, death, and resurrection that we dare to believe that despair, disillusionment, and even death are not dead ends but signs of an impending resurrection, and only if we have the courage to live fully in the midst of that painful contradiction will we too find resurrection and the transformation of our lives and the life of our beloved nation.
That is where our hope lies. For our hope lies not in ourselves. Nor do we have hope that God will do what we want God to do. Our hope is that God will continue to surprise and amaze us, as God did at the empty tomb.
And so this Sunday we will read the names of all those at Idlewild who have indeed lived their lives in faith and now are fully embraced in “the peace that passes all understanding.” But as I close, I would like to list the eleven faithful Jews who were killed last week in Pittsburgh simply because of their faith, as well as the two African-Americans who were killed simply because of their color. Please say a prayer for them, their families, and their communities of faith as we stand … and pray … in solidarity with them. Perhaps you might even offer a quiet “Presente,” which is what Central American Christians would say when the list of those killed in fighting for peace and justice was read in church.
Vicki Lee Jones
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”