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I Speak

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Tree of Life Synagogue with memorial Stars of David; night shot; policeman walks by
“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” —Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Three tragedies of our current political situation exploded into the headlines this week, each screaming for our attention.

  1. First, explosive devices were found addressed to outspoken critics of the US president: first in the mailbox of George Soros, a Hungarian-American, Jewish philanthropist known for supporting progressive causes and frequently a bogeyman for anti-semitic conspiracy theories, then in the mail of former President Barrack and Michelle Obama and former Secretary Hilary Clinton. Eventually former Vice President Joe Biden, several Democratic senators, and news outlets were targeted. The bombs were all found before anyone could be hurt. A Florida man has been arrested on suspicion of sending the bombs. Although he was of Filipino and Italian descent, he longed for a different identity. For many years, he self-identified as a member of the indigenous Seminole nation, plastering the van he lived in with Native American stickers. Upon the election of President Trump, he registered as a Republican and traded the Native American stickers for stickers supporting President Trump and repeating far right messaging fueled by the president in campaign rallies and posts on Twitter. He expressed hatred towards his own family, even his mother.
  2. A white gunman shot and killed two black shoppers in a Kroger in Kentucky; witnesses heard him making a racist remark. Prior to entering the grocery store, he was seen attempting to enter an historic black church where people were gathered.
  3. The week concluded with the mass shooting of Jewish worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on the Sabbath (Saturday). The gunman shot and killed 11 worshippers and injured 2 worshippers and 4 police officers responding. Before opening fire, the white gunman yelled, “All Jews must die.” According to the Anti-Defamation League, it is “one of the deadliest [attacks] against the Jewish community in the U.S.”

In the face of violence, it can be hard to know how to react, but silence only emboldens abusers.

I speak as a Christian: Jesus’ teachings demand that his followers love and accept all people as their brothers and sisters, without regard for their ethnicity, faith tradition, country of origin, sex, gender, orientation, or any other distinguishing characteristics. “Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself. In this is summed up all the [Jewish] Law and the prophets.” Jesus said this was true, and when asked, “Who is my neighbor?” he told a story about a man beaten and left for dead on a stretch of highway. A clergyman and a temple worker passed by on the other side of the road so that the man’s blood would not prevent them from doing their job as worship leaders. It was the foreigner and heretic who bandaged his wounds and set him up in the equivalent of a hospital and who Jesus identified as the person to emulate — and as the neighbor to love in return. No one, in other words, should be rejected. Every human being should be loved in the same way that we love ourselves.

I speak as an Orthodox Christian: Yesterday was the commemoration of “‘Ohi!’ Day” — that is, “‘No!’ Day,” when Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas and the Greek nation responded to Mussolini with a united “No.” We, too, must respond with a united “NO!” to a resurgent fascism, a resurgent hatred of Jews, as well as hatred of people of color and immigrants, — in short, a resurgent hatred, born of fear, of anyone who is different from us. Of course, none of this is new at all; it just never died. St Maria (Skobtsova) of Paris and her companions stood against Nazism in France and protected Jews in every way they could. When asked if he would stop protecting Jews, Fr. St Dmitri Klepnin said he could not. It was impossible. He looked the German commander in the eye, pointed to the crucifix on his chest, and asked, “Do you know this Jew?” He was struck backward and to the ground. He and St Maria were taken to concentration camps and died as martyrs for authentic Orthodox Christianity.

I speak as an Orthodox Christian in America: We must be clear that racism (or ethnophyletism) has no place in our church. Orthodox Christians love our families and take pride in our old world origins; when warped minds confuse this with their own hatred and fear toward people who are different from them, we must clearly say, “NO. That is not who we are.” We follow a man who was crucified and yet still loved his executors to the end, asking that they be forgiven in his last breath. We are united to his death and resurrection, and therefore we must never, as our fathers wickedly did, use his passion as an excuse for hatred of his people, who remain our brothers and sisters and our neighbors.

I speak as an Orthodox Christian in America who was raised White, Anglo-Saxon, and evangelical Protestant: We must recognize that our ancestors caused grave harm to people of color and created a world where we benefit and they do not. We must clearly speak about this and say, It is not right. We must act to bend the arc of our shared history toward the justice and mercy our scriptures teach: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8 NKJV). About this and other teachings of our shared prophetic tradition, the Jewish Talmud says, “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it” (Pirkei Avot 2:21).

Yesterday, the Greek Church commemorated the Holy Protection of the Mother of God, transferred to October 28 from October 1, when most Orthodox Christians commemorate it, because there were so many stories of her miraculous protection in Greece as the Greek people stood against German Nazism and Italian Fascism. We, too, should implore her protection and the intervention of her divine Son against the demonic winds of hate and evil which are now possessing our land, and we must be prepared to speak and to act. Not to do so is itself to act and speak in favor of the evil.

God will not hold us guiltless.

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Filed under: — Basil @ 12:21 pm