Midweek reflection by pastor Shawn:
A headline in the Washington Post today read, "The alleged synagogue shooter was a churchgoer who talked Christian theology, raising tough questions for evangelical pastors". (Link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2019/05/01/alleged-synagogue-shooter-was-churchgoer-who-articulated-christian-theology-prompting-tough-questions-evangelical-pastors/ )
Horrifically, a young man walking into a synagogue in California and opened fire, killing one and wounding 3 others. This is a morally disgusting act, one that, in the USA, has become something we're at risk of growing numb to hearing about every few days. But there's an aspect of this story that should especially catch our attention as church people. From the story: "[He] appears to have written a seven-page letter spelling out his core beliefs: that Jewish people, guilty in his view of faults ranging from killing Jesus to controlling the media, deserved to die. That his intention to kill Jews would glorify God."
How does a seemingly devout member of a Christian faith community get radicalized into white nationalism? It's simply too convenient to try to detach his church background from his anti-Semitism that led to his heinous, sinful, murderous act. Whatever details emerge about this story, nothing will change the fact that the church didn't seem to make clear to him that racist hatred was incompatible with biblical Christianity. In fact, he seems to have laced his letter with relatively uncontroversial Christian teachings. Now, I very much doubt that his church would teach anti-Semitism. But I also wonder: if his church found out about his racist views, would they have started the process of church discipline—with the son of an elder—in response (Matt. 18:15-20)? Would the evils of racism even be part of the conversations they have? Would it even have come up? Did his church shape him to know that the Christian gospel demands anti-racism from us as part of our discipleship?
Anti-Semitism is a strain in Christian history, one that must be called out, repented of, and rebuked. Martin Luther, for all his contributions to Christian theology and to the church, has some writings that are disturbingly anti-Semitic. You can trace a direct line from his anti-Semitism to the propaganda that led to the Holocaust. This needs to be named, rebuked, and repented of.
Theology matters. What we teach and preach matters, and what we remain silent about matters.