Restoring Our Sanctuaries 

     There is a troubling trend occurring in our culture that has stopped respecting the sanctuary implicit in religious houses of worship.  On Wednesday of this week in Jeffersontown, Kentucky when a gunman intent on killing people of color found the doors to First Baptist Church locked, he went to a nearby supermarket and shot dead two black people before he could be subdued.  When a similarly violent man went to a Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, he killed eleven people on the Jewish Sabbath.

What will it take for our nation and culture to start respecting each other and our sacred spaces again?  The extreme partisanship in US political rhetoric isn’t helping.  It’s not acceptable that misinformation campaigns – used to further the political divide before an election – are used to scapegoat all Jews because of their historic need for and ministry within agencies that serve immigrants.  There are no acceptable arguments for killing anyone for supporting the human rights of immigrants, nor for the targeting of religious minorities or people of color.  Sanctuaries are so named precisely because they are refuges for those in need of protection and hospitality.  The United States itself has served as a sanctuary for countless peoples from around the world.

We need to repent as a nation for allowing things to get to this level of brutality and lawlessness.  No religious person should experience discrimination where the freedom of religion is sacrosanct in the land of the free.  No group of people deserves to live in fear in the home of the brave.

The constant objectification of people and organizations as enemies and outsiders must come to an end.  Political, religious, and civic leaders have the responsibility to exemplify what it means to face the important issues of the day with respect and decorum.  How we speak about an issue is as important as the issue we speak about.  Those charged with leadership must raise the caliber of the discussion to the human and humane level.

We are heart-broken concerning the killings and injuries at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA.  We stand in solidarity with the Jewish Community everywhere as we seek an end to anti-Jewish hatred.  We mourn with the people of Pittsburgh as we grieve with the Tree of Life Congregation.  We also stand in solidarity with all communities who have been targeted by such ideological violence and hate speech.

We must be honest as a nation to confront the systematic causes of hatred that lurk deep in our roots.  The irresponsible rhetoric of our governmental leadership has emboldened the bigotry, racism, and prejudice that continue to threaten our very survival as a free people.  What was once found only on the fringe of our society has now been given permission to come into the light.  What should we expect when our leadership idealizes assaulting journalists, mocks physically challenged people, dehumanizes political opponents, and prioritizes campaigning over solidarity with those who suffer violence or disaster.

It is critically important for the Interfaith Community to stand up for what is just and true as we continue to recognize the dignity and rights of all people to live in harmony and peace.  We join with the high school students of Pittsburgh who responded to the violence at their local Synagogue with chants of “Vote!, Vote!, Vote!”  Rather than demand revenge, the students are calling for responsible and empathetic governmental leadership.

The Rabbi of the Tree of Life Congregation, Jeffrey Myers, had the courage to confront our politicians for their inaction concerning gun violence after the Parkland, Florida, school shooting.  In his blog, he wrote a piece entitled, “We Deserve Better,” which is more than appropriate in this terrible situation:

“Despite continuous calls for sensible gun control and mental health care, our elected leaders in Washington knew that it would fade away in time.  Unless there is a dramatic turnaround in the mid-term elections, I fear that the status quo will remain unchanged, and school shootings will resume. I shouldn’t have to include in my daily morning prayers that God should watch over my wife and daughter, both teachers, and keep them safe. Where are our leaders?”

We must confront the dangerous rhetoric and thoughts that might be found in the depths of our hearts.  We must disarm our hearts and recognize the sacredness of others.  We must realize that this is the time for all responsible citizens to reestablish democracy and contribute to a society founded on common decency and common sense.  We must resist the temptation to isolate ourselves from the World Community as if human rights were not the standard of what it means to be a legitimate nation.

We express our sympathy to Rabbi Myers and his congregation.  We share in the grief of the people of Pittsburgh, PA.  We stand with our nation as together we strive to be a better people free from hatred, prejudice, and fear of others.  We commit ourselves anew to creating communities of care where all belong and none are made to be afraid.

Envisioning a world of Interfaith peace. 

The Governing Board of the Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County.


Tuesday, Oct 30th at 7:00 pm there will be a Memorial Service for the victims led by the Jewish community at Congregation B’nai Shalom. 74 Eckley Lane, in Walnut Creek