By Rabbi Daniel L. Lehmann, President of the Graduate Theological Union
April 29, 2019 – During the past six months, we have seen a horrific increase in violent attacks on people of different faiths in their houses of worship. The attack at the Chabad of Poway in San Diego on April 27, 2019, in which a gunman yelling anti-Semitic slurs opened fire on worshippers on the final day of Passover, is only the latest in a global wave of violence perpetrated against innocent people at worship. Other recent attacks have included the Easter bombing of Catholic churches in Sri Lanka on April 21, 2019, the mass shootings during Friday prayers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 15, 2019, and the Sabbath attacks at a synagogue in Pittsburgh in October of 2018, exactly six months before the shooting in San Diego. The terrible series of violent acts directed at religious communities also includes arson attacks on three historic Black churches in Louisiana over the course of just ten days in late March and early April.
As a multi-religious scholarly community that is deeply committed to constructive dialogue within and among the great religious traditions of our world, we at the Graduate Theological Union condemn and abhor such violence. We wish to express our solidarity with all whose lives have been scarred by each of these attacks. Again, we extend our heartfelt prayers to the families and friends of those murdered and injured, and the communities that surround them.
Three times in the past six months the GTU community has gathered for vigils in the wake of attacks to pray for and to stand with the communities most closely affected. But we know we must do more than offer our prayers and support. The scourge of white supremacist terrorism and religious intolerance must be combatted with all of our resources. We must work together for a renewed national commitment to pluralism and respect for human life in all of its diversity. And we must join together to commit our educational and spiritual resources to thwart the despicable culture of religious hatred, violence, and bigotry that is spreading around the world.
The attack on the synagogue in southern California occurred on the last day of Passover, a day that, in many Hassidic traditions including the Chabad community, is associated with longing and hope for the messianic era. In Judaism, the most prominent feature of the messianic expectation is world peace, tranquility, and the unfettered opportunity to worship God in harmony with all peoples.
The fact that the latest attack in San Diego occurred on this day of messianic aspiration and just over a week after the synagogue had hosted an interfaith event aimed at building relationships between the city’s religious communities is a cruel reminder that the work of building interreligious understanding is both dangerous and of the greatest importance. Such work is at the very heart of our calling here at the GTU. A multi-religious community like the GTU offers exceptional opportunities to celebrate commonalities across multiple traditions, to learn from one another, and, perhaps more importantly, to engage in serious, difficult conversations about difference. Such conversations lay the foundation for a pluralistic society rooted in openness and care for one another.
In the weeks and months ahead, the GTU community will explore ways we can provide educational and spiritual resources to enable religious communities to engage across difference, build bridges of understanding, and forge common bonds that will support and celebrate religious diversity as a bedrock of American democracy.
These days, too many of the religious voices in our media are uttering words of lamentation and mourning as their communities experience these attacks. May this pain give way to healing, and to a deeper commitment to work toward a day when all are valued and respected, and when diversity becomes the catalyst for a more profound understanding of ourselves and of others, as we work together toward a more just and peaceful world.