Faith in Action

‘This is not who we are,’ they say after shootings. Oh, really? Time for tough question

Lowcountry teens walk with man whose family was killed at concentration camp

Congregation Beth Yam member Ariel Shatz, 17, describes, on Monday, her feelings while visiting the Nazi concentration camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau with Holocaust survivor Hank Brodt, 91, of High Point, N.C. Shatz and fellow congregation member
Up Next
Congregation Beth Yam member Ariel Shatz, 17, describes, on Monday, her feelings while visiting the Nazi concentration camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau with Holocaust survivor Hank Brodt, 91, of High Point, N.C. Shatz and fellow congregation member

An expression has arisen in recent years when something terrible happens. Political leaders will say something like, “This is not who we are.”

A few days ago the mayor of Poway, California, uttered words to that effect when he commented on the murder and shootings by an anti-Semitic terrorist who entered a local synagogue on the Sabbath on the last day Passover week, and six months after the killings at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, with an automatic weapon.

Joe Biden uttered the same kind of statement in his recent speech announcing his decision to run for the office of president, when referring to the neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.

Former vice president Joe Biden announced his candidacy for president on April 25, 2019. In it, he rebuked President Trump's Charlottesville response and talked about rebuilding the middle class.

Then the prime minister of New Zealand, in response to the slaughter of Muslim worshipers, said, “This is not who we are.”

Republican CNN commentator Anna Navarro spoke the same words in reference to Border Patrol agents firing tear gas on families and children who were trying to cross the border into the United States.

I am starting to wonder and ask a hard question. Is it possible that this is who we are?

Degree of hatred

It does not mean that Poway is anti-Semitic or that all America hates Jews or that we despise anyone who does not look like us.

Yet, these events of extremist behavior continue to roll out across the landscape of America.

Yes, the Jewish community is, and should be, justifiably worried about their own security.

A rabbi who survived a shooting at Chabad of Poway synagogue near San Diego on April 27, 2019, returns to the scene of the attack, where he met congregants and spoke to the media.

Do these delusional acts of copycat violence fueled by the white supremacy movement reflect who we are?

Is it time to face a hard truth that this degree of hatred is real and if it happens in our country then it is a part of who we are?

Are these people who carry on a tradition of hate against many minorities based upon race and religion the descendants of those who who made the lynchings against African Americans, who dressed in the garb of the Klu Klux Klan, and who marched as Nazis in Skokie, Illinois, and today in Charlottesville?

God’s word

Let’s not forget the teachings of the biblical prophets who reminded us how much God loves the Israelites, and at the same time railed against them for committing acts of injustice and cruelty against their own people.

God threatened exile as the ultimate punishment, but that aspect of moral outrage required the people back then to own up to who they were before there was any chance for redemption.

Is there a moral outrage in the conscience of the American people with regard to these kinds of killings?

If there is a call for unity, what are we to unify around?

Have we reached a moment in our history when we must ask ourselves whether we have done enough to express our anguish?

One of the great theologians of our time, Abraham Joshua Heschel, asked, “Has our expression of anguish matched our outrage?”

The prophets consistently accused the Israelites of not comprehending the gravity of a society that was turning against itself. They accused the people of not listening to God’s call to change their ways.

Isaiah makes us today face a hard truth about what we are not doing in the face of unbridled hatred:

“There is no one who calls on Your name, Who arouses himself to take hold of You; For You have hidden Your face from us and have delivered us into the power of our iniquities” (Isaiah 64:7).

Are we hiding our face today? Is the 24-hour news cycle all we are willing to devote our time to in acknowledging the tragedy of murders in a house of worship, in a public school and in any public place?

Does the “power of our iniquities” mean we will allocate a brief moment of shock and then settle into a selective memory lapse of indifference?

A 19-year-old legally purchased an automatic weapon and then allegedly murdered one person and wounded three others. Will there ever come a day when we choose the duty of preserving human life over the constitutional right of unfettered access to weapons of mass destruction?

Our question

Does the power of our iniquities allow us to excuse the availability of these horrific weapons?

Jeremiah made us face the truth that we as a nation are responsible for a crime of indifference. He said:

“You shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you; and you shall call to them, but they will not answer you.

“You shall say to them, ‘This is the nation that did not obey the voice of the LORD their God or accept correction; truth has perished and has been cut off from their mouth” (Jeremiah 7:27-28).

I so want to believe that we have not reached the point that truth has perished or that we refuse to listen to the call to stop the killing in our society.

Is it time to acknowledge that this senseless carnage to some degree reflects who we are? Can we unify to proclaim that we can be better than those who reject the value that life is sacred?