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Rev. Dr. Ken Harris


By ETS President Kenneth E. Harris

The family of the Ecumenical Theological Seminary joins the chorus of voices expressing condolences to members of the Tree of Life Synagogue and the entire city of Pittsburgh. What Fox News described as the “Horror of Anti-Semitism” only begins to address the vile deed. This was not just an attack against Jews, it was an attack on all people who are not included in the “Make America Great Again” campaign. Your tears are our tears; your pain our pain; your prayer for change our prayer for change.

It’s Sunday evening, Oct. 28, 2018 in Detroit. My family and I attended worship services at Detroit Bible Tabernacle in the peaceful, safe environment of the sanctuary. We read scripture, sang songs of praise to our Lord, heard a gospel message and gave thanks for the blessing and provision of the Lord. We also prayed for our Jewish brothers and sisters in Pittsburgh whose peace was turned upside down.

Worshippers gathered at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh to celebrate the naming of an infant. At 9:45 a.m., the peace of their sanctuary was destroyed as Robert Bowers, an alleged white supremacist, entered the synagogue with weapons that included an AR-15 assault weapon. He is accused of shooting and killing 11 parishioners and wounded four others in a sacred House of Worship. Four police officers were also wounded. I thought about Detroit Bible Tabernacle, and what a horror it would be to experience what happened in Pittsburgh. At DBT, we locked up and returned home after services; in Pittsburgh, families and authorities are picking up the pieces of shattered lives and dreams. We mourn with them.

African-Americans know something about hate. It was June 2018, in Charleston, South Carolina, when parishioners gathered for Bible Study at historic Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church. Dylan Roof, an avowed white supremacist, was welcomed to the gathering. After sitting through Bible study, he stood up and opened fire; nine parishioners lay dead or mortally wounded in pools of blood. The dead included the pastor, State Sen. Clementa Pinckney. It left families, a church, a city, a state and a nation in shock, horror and profound grief. Hate had reared its ugly head – again.

Before Charleston, it was Charlottesville, Va. in August 2017 at a “Unite the Right Rally.”  Counter-rallies were organized to challenge what was characterized in media outlets as a gathering of the alt-right, neo-confederates, neo fascists, neo-nationalists and neo-Nazis who are anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim and outright racists. Counter-protestors leaving a local church were attacked, and Heather Meyer was killed when hit by a car driven into a crowd.  According to President Trump, there were good people on both sides in Charlottesville.

Thirteen mail bombs were discovered this week that targeted prominent Democratic leaders.  Cesar Sayoc was arrested for sending pipe bombs to critics of the president. Earlier in Octoboer, Trump publicly celebrated the public official who body-slammed a journalist during the last election cycle. He has also offered to pay the legal fees of anyone who punched his critics in the face while protesters were violently ejected from his rallies.

Also this week in Jeffersontown, Ky., Gregory Bush, a white supremacist, tried unsuccessfully to enter First Baptist Church, a black congregation.  The church’s security protocols probably avoided another Charleston or Pittsburgh.  Refused entry, he went to a local supermarket where he is accused of shooting and killing two African-Americans – a 69-year-old-female and a 67-year-old grandfather, whose grandson witnessed the shooting. When confronted by an armed white citizen, Bush reportedly declared, “white people don’t shoot white people.” Is there a ring of truth in Bush’s statement? Are some people emboldened to do what he did?

Are armed guards in our houses of worship and schools the answer? Do we need to pack a weapon when “shopping while Black” or “worshipping while Jewish”? The answer to these questions will be debated vigorously during the next week with little agreement. My prayer is our nation would heed the words of the Hebrew prophet:

Leviticus 19:18

18 ‘You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.   NASU

The Christian scriptures add this thought in which the apostle Paul says:

Romans 12:19-21

Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. 20 “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  NASU

These scriptures raise more questions for some than provide answers. However, the implication is that love is the answer. Vengeance is out; divine justice is in. Loving one’s neighbor is the goal. May God give us the wisdom to do and live love – to do the impossible:

Matthew 19:26

26 And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  NASU