An old, old hate raises its head among us

04/18/2014 2:10 PM

04/19/2014 12:00 AM

Last Sunday in Overland Park a rabidly anti-Semitic, gun-wielding white supremacist drove into the parking lot at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City. And three people were slain.

A grandfather and grandson (Methodists) were killed while two others escaped the gunfire. Then at a nearby Jewish retirement center, a woman (who turned out to be Catholic) was shot down. The metro area and the wider Jewish and Christian communities are bowed with grief.

An interesting byproduct of these deaths is the rising empathy in Christian circles for the long experience of Jewish persons, often at the hands of Christians. The cruel irony of the apparent killer’s failed mission is not lost on either community.

In the days hence we have learned a lot more about the suspect . He served as a grand dragon in the Ku Klux Klan, ran for office in Missouri on one issue — dislodging Jews from places of influence in the United States — and retains an abiding affection for neo-Nazis. After being placed in the police car, he screamed “Heil Hitler!” The local authorities have rightly deemed this a hate crime.

This story line is ancient and contemporary, and the horrific atrocities never are put to rest. With Passover and Holy Week here, this event requires better thinking about guns, religious liberty and the propensity of humanity to scapegoat “others” for the ills of the world.

We may wonder where such virulence arises. Seeds for this kind of ethnic hatred often grow in those who feel dispossessed or blame others for their status.

Learning the narrative than underlies an ideology is instructive. Probing the systemic evil that threatens us all is necessary. It is an inescapable reality that we live after “the Fall,” and we “sigh for Eden,” in the words of Methodist Bishop William Henry Willimon.

In earlier times, Christians persecuted Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus, and they read virulent parts of the New Testament as warrant for their action. The epithet “Christ killers” seemed to justify the targeted marginalization and wounding exploitation of Jewish communities.

Thankfully, in recent scholarship, the broad-brush accusation of “the Jews” has been refined, although movies like Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” do not help. We have learned that a slender sector, temple authorities colluding with Rome, allowed the death of Jesus, and that his confrontation with the reigning powers precipitated his execution.

Yet the burden of election, “being chosen,” clings to this historic people. Perhaps it is because of the identity God bestows on the Jewish people that others express the mimetic desire to displace and destroy them.

Over the past two summers while studying with rabbis in Jerusalem, I have learned that God’s project with Israel, calling for a covenant, was a test case to demonstrate how God desires intimacy with all humanity. Sadly, this experiment was more failure than success, in the words of my teachers.

We travel toward redemption in a familial conversation. “We are the relatives that just won’t go away,” remarked a rabbi friend. I am grateful that we claim each other in these days.

In this week Christians call holy, we confront once again the blood thirst that characterizes sinful humanity. The “fall to violence,” in the words of Marjorie Suchocki, the Methodist theologian, is the primal expression of rebellion against God and the refusal to live in community with others.

Christians and Jews are drawing their lives of faith ever closer in our city. Public statements, vigils, and interfaith clergy gatherings bear testimony to a shared concern for mutual well-being, for shalom. These encounters call us to pierce the surface of distrust and traverse a new landscape.

Appropriate for this week are words from the Mourner’s Kaddish:

Blessed be God, beyond any blessing and song, Amen. May there be abundant peace from Heaven and life upon us and praise and consolation that are uttered in the world. Now say: upon all Israel.

A companion reading for Monday of Holy Week describes the peaceful ways of God’s servant, whom Christians claim to be the Messiah.

“He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. (Isaiah 42:2-3)”

This faithful Jew shows us the way to live with others. I pray we will all be renewed in this season as we consider his pathway.

Molly T. Marshall is president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary.

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