How does a world become so torn by hate? And blind hate at that — hate fueled by online forums, conspiracy theories, bully pulpits (in the truest sense of bully) across the country, and such?
On Nov. 3, Congregation Beth Shalom stood with our larger Lee County community in a vigil to honor the 11 lives of the men and women shot by an anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist in Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue.
We literally stood together with friends of many faiths — Jews, Christians, Muslims, Humanists and more. We sang together, listened together to powerful words. We remembered each of the people as people, not one of 11, saying each name aloud, lighting a separate candle for each beautiful, unique flame extinguished from this world. I cannot thank you enough for coming and for standing with us day to day.
The past few weeks have been emotional. My husband and I explained the massacre to our children. They will overhear conversations, even if not ours, and we wanted to give them context. But also, they have to know to escape.
Our son isn’t yet mature enough to process what happened and was ready to accept our explanation that Pittsburgh is many miles away and there are many synagogues and this type of thing is rare. He said, “OK, Mama,” and ran back to his Legos. Our daughter was another story. We held her as she sobbed, “At a baby?! A baby naming?! I went to one at camp this year.”
Sadly, she understands. It’s not that religion itself is under attack, but minorities — religious or otherwise — are. As horrific as the Sutherland Springs church massacre was, the trigger was a family dispute, not hatred of a religion or a particular group of people. The church, much like a movie theater, was a place the shooter could maximize his impact.
Other attacks differ — the mass shootings at Tree of Life, the historically black AME Church in South Carolina and the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin; the bombing of Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Minnesota. I could name a few more, like the attacks on Jewish Community Centers (JCCs), but let’s stop there.
Put the attacks in context. If churches were being attacked at the rate of synagogues and mosques (excluding JCCs), we’d have seen over 130 church attacks. I ran the numbers. My black friends are understandably nervous in church, though; they, too, are being targeted. The Kroger shooter first tried to enter a historically black church; if he’d succeeded...
Perhaps the comments that stuck with me the most are Dr. Wayne Flynt’s: words matter. He related the synagogue shooting to young Virgil Ware’s 1963 murder, inspired by a segregationist rally. I’ll add, know your words. Study history to understand context. Know which innocuous-to-many phrases are established ways to foment hate in those who traffic in hate. And, hardest of all, draw upon your inner strength to stand up to those who spread blind hate. Let us stand together in this way, too.
Susan A. Youngblood is a member of Congregation Beth Shalom and an associate professor of technical and professional communication in Auburn University’s Department of English.