Our hearts break for the families and friends of the three people murdered at a Jewish Community Center and senior home in Overland Park on Sunday. We lift them in prayer. We mourn with our Jewish brothers and sisters for this brutal assault on their community. We hold them in prayer. We stand in solidarity with them in this tragic, frightening moment, particularly coming at the holy seasons for both Christians and Jews.
We are appalled at the killer’s callous disregard for precious human life and the hateful ideology that motivated him. We condemn the deep-seated anti-Semitism that has so long lain at the heart of Western culture.
We acknowledge, as well, the central role Christian tradition has played in promoting the mistrust and hatred of Jews. The ugly truth is that Christian Holy Week, the annual commemoration of the last week of Jesus’s earthly life, has often been the occasion for mob violence against Jewish communities, as priests and pastors preached sermons blaming all Jews throughout history for the death of Jesus. Roman authorities alone had the power to crucify. Pontius Pilate, who issued the execution order, was notorious for his brutality and his insensitivity to the religious and cultural sensibilities of the Jewish population he ruled. And he was particularly harsh during Passover, when Jews came to Jerusalem to commemorate God’s liberation of their ancestors from enslavement to a foreign imperial power. Pilate ordered the crucifixion of Jesus and other Jews at the time of Passover to terrorize and demoralize Jewish pilgrims and inhabitants of Jerusalem. It is a cruel irony, and one of the church’s deepest sins, that so many of our teachers and preachers have twisted history to blame the very people who were targeted by Pilate’s act of state terrorism.
As we journey through this week of reflection and repentance, we urge Christian leaders to actively and publicly renounce the destructive and false narrative that vilifies Jewish faith and all-too-often threatens the life and safety of our Jewish neighbors and friends.
The fact that all three of the victims in Overland Park were Christian, including the son and great grandson of a beloved Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) pastor, underlines both the indiscriminant irrationality of such acts of hatred and the deep connection between our Jewish and Christian communities. That which harms either of us, harms both of us.
It is our prayer in this season of Passover and Easter that God will deliver us from the slavery of anti-Semitism and from hatreds of all kinds, that life may triumph over death and we all may know the glorious joy of freedom.
The Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
The Rev. Geoffrey Black, United Church of Christ