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A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

How Long, O Lord?
March 21, 2019

The litany of hatred-fueled massacres runs long and wide across continents and centuries. Yet it came home to us in unprecedented fashion on October 27, 2018. On that dark day, a gunman roiling with hatred at immigrant peoples and those who succor them tore into the sacred space of Tree of Life synagogue with a blaze of bullets that left 11 worshipers dead and many others injured. As our great city gathered together across all religious boundaries to mourn their death, many of us wanted to say, “Today, we too are Jewish.”

Jesus’ example reveals that the only way to become a redemptive presence to the destitute and desperate is to identify ourselves fully with those we are seeking to reach with the good news of reconciliation to the alienated and healing the broken. Because he became fully one of us, he was able to lift us when nothing else could help.

We were still reeling from October 27’s devastating attack when we learned of a mass shooting of worshipers last week, this time on the other side of the world in Christchurch, New Zealand; this time in a mosque rather than a synagogue. The place and affiliation may have been different, but the animus was the same – hatred for the stranger among us. Again?! Already?! This time 50 worshipers died, Muslims rather than Jews. It could have been Christians either time. And so, like we did with our Jewish friends last October, this week many of us want to say, “Today, we too are Muslim.”

As those who seek to walk in the way of Jesus, we are called not just to sympathize with those who suffer, but to identify ourselves with them. This is what Jesus did with those he came to save and heal and set free. He became what he wasn’t for their sakes, and for ours too. How can we do otherwise when those different from us are victims of unspeakable devastation?

Because we follow Christ, our hearts are broken for those whose places of worship are invaded by murderous fury as they gather to worship in peace. As people who trust in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who was supremely revealed in Jesus, we unite ourselves with them in crying out, “How Long, O Lord?” (Psalm 35:17)

There is a malevolent spirit alive and active in our world today, a spirit of hostility to the foreigner for the sake of bolstering our own security and comfort. We seethe with resentment when those other than our nearest kin enjoy success among us, as though we are thereby being robbed of that which is rightfully ours. We forget far too quickly God’s command, from time immemorial, always to welcome the stranger. God’s people must always remember that they too once were strangers who endured great distress at the hands of oppressors. (Deuteronomy 10:19)

Christians have often been afraid for their very lives when they have lived as a minority in places where other religions dominate. We should thus not be surprised when – especially in the face of violence perpetrated by individuals or parties claiming to represent the majority – Jews, Muslims, and people of other faiths are gripped by fear in places Christians have historically been in the majority. Religious liberty means nothing for anyone if it isn’t extended equally to everyone.

The Muslim community has raised more than $2 million in aid for the families and community hit by the wanton killing at Tree of Life on October 27. The Jewish community is now raising money to support Muslims from Christchurch to Pittsburgh. Christians have joined in both endeavors. But such mutual aid is just a beginning. What more are we doing to assure our neighbors of other faiths and ethnic backgrounds that they are safe among us, and that we earnestly desire that they flourish?

Jeremiah tells those exiled from home to seek the blessing of the city to which they have been taken. (Jeremiah 29:7) Many immigrants among us have sought such blessing for their new, adoptive homelands, and that has been a key to their prosperity here. But it is not enough. The challenge to seek others’ welfare goes both ways. How have we sought and promoted the peace and prosperity of the those among us who hail from other faiths and lands?

Yours in seeking God’s peace for all,

The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister

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