Our hearts are grief-ridden and our spirits horrified by Saturday’s tragic shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue. We hold all the members of the congregation, and the Jewish community, in our thoughts and prayers as they—and the whole nation—wrestle with the horrifying aftermath of anti-Semitism in its most virulent, violent form. This senseless, savage act is a stark reminder that anti-Semitism still corrupts hearts and minds in our nation. We join with people of faith and conscience across the country who stand committed to stopping this hateful ideology and the violence it produces. We mourn with our Jewish neighbors, friends, family members, and fellow citizens in this moment of communal trauma, and weep over the lives that can never be replaced.
While this incident is horrific on its own, the devastating truth is that it occurred amidst a broader trend of public expressions of politicized hatred, of speeches that dehumanize and condemn whole groups of people, of chants and taunts and caustic tweets that tacitly support violence against vulnerable communities. Last week alone, the nation reeled in the wake of pipe bombs mailed to elected officials and media centers, and watched in stunned horror as two African American grandparents were executed in a grocery store after the white gunman was foiled by a locked door in his apparent attempt to murder parishioners at a nearby Black church.
At Union Theological Seminary, we teach our students to be responsible for the social effects that their words have upon the communities they serve. While the link between hateful language and violent acts is never a direct one, throughout history the rise of language that denigrates groups of people has led to subsequent acts of violence against those groups. Anti-Semitism, racism, anti-immigrant hate, anti-Muslim rhetoric, the stigmatizing of LGBTQ people, violence against women, and demonizing a free press have common roots. It is abhorent that this hatred not only finds support but is in fact embedded in language and actions issued from the Oval Office.
Speaking from our multiple faith-traditions, we view this horrifying trend as not only a political crisis, but a crisis of enormous moral and spiritual magnitude. It is hard not to feel as if our nation has fallen into such a state of animosity that we have lost touch with a core principle that binds us together: the fundamental equality of all people.
Union has long taught her students that everyone is made in the image of God. This should not be a radical statement, yet it is quite clear that powerful forces are questioning this truth, and that their pernicious lies are finding fertile soil in too many hearts. In such dangerous times, it is crucial that we unite together across difference—across lines of race, culture and religion that are too often used to divide us—to stand united against this common threat. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” So, today we profess our devotion to all people who find themselves targeted by violent speech and acts, and we offer comfort to the victims of bigoted violence, especially the family of loved ones of those who have been killed. We love you; you do not stand alone.