Rev. Evan Young, Campus Minister
Like you, I am horror-struck by the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh this past weekend. Heart-sick, dismayed that such a thing happened, could happen, anywhere in this country but particularly in a city and community I’ve visited and loved, where people I know and love are reeling and hurting and grieving together. The impact of such a thing happening in a place of worship that serves as sanctuary and community center is beyond my power to imagine. And that all I have to offer is my sympathy seems very weak tea indeed.
There’s a temptation hiding in my response to this tragedy. I’ve heard it voiced about this tragedy, and about others as well; maybe you have too. It sounds like this: “This isn’t who we are. This doesn’t represent our community. We’re better than this.”
I understand the sentiment. I’ve shared it. I’ve said these words. But right now, in the wake of this latest act of terrorism, I’m coming to grips with its essential dishonesty. Because in fact, this is precisely who we are—who, in this historical and cultural moment, we have become.
I believe in community writ large. I believe the shooting at Tree of Life synagogue is not something that happened to that faith community, or to the community of Pittsburgh, or to the Jewish community. I believe it’s something that happened to (and in) my community—and yours. Because we’re all connected, because we’re interdependent, because the quality of community each of us enjoys depends on the quality of community all of us create.
And the fact is that the community we have all participated in creating is one in which bigotry can thrive. In our America today, it thrives to the point where bigots feel empowered to make their bigotry concrete and real in acts of violence—acts directed against people of color, against Jewish people, against LGBTQ+ people, against Muslims, against immigrants.
In a community where this is true, it’s not enough to simply be someone who doesn’t perpetrate those acts, doesn’t hold those beliefs, doesn’t say those things. It’s not enough to feel bad for the victims of those violent words and deeds, to send them thoughts and prayers, to long for a better time past or future. When we say we “stand with,” we must mean that we “act with,” and “advocate for,” those among us who are suffering. And that we “engage with,” and “differ with,” and disrupt the empowerment of those who would, and do, oppress through their power and privilege and bias.
When I talk about resistance, this is what I mean. Not resisting the rule of a politician, or a party, with whom I disagree. My resistance is about resisting—and confronting, and combating—ideas and actions and worldviews that presume humanity is rightly divided into a favored “us” and a disfavored, less-than-human “them” upon whom the favored can practice all manner of oppression. That’s what the gunman did this weekend; that’s what the pipe-bomb-mailer has been doing; that’s what “proud boys” all over the country are doing; that’s what our nationalist-in-chief is advocating when he proclaims himself a nationalist. And my resistance to what they’re all doing springs from a deeper well than my political affiliation. It springs from my faith, from the way I understand our participation in a larger whole of which we are part, on which we depend, and for the well-being of which we are therefore obliged to work.
Resistance like this is ultimately an act of faith, one that requires us to start where we really are and move toward a better, wholer, holier vision. It means embracing the possibility that this is, in fact, who we now are—however horrifying that prospect might be. And then throwing your body and soul into moving us all in the direction of the community we could be, because to do less would be to deny who you are, and whose you are.