Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

When you attack a church, you attack God

Mourners participate during a candlelight vigil held for the victims of a fatal shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017, in Sutherland Springs, Texas. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

This is what you need to know about attacking a church, or a synagogue, or a mosque, or any other religious institution.

The entire purpose of a religious place is to be a sanctuary — a place in which people can be safe.

That was always its purpose, going back to biblical times.

The altar itself was the original “safe place.” According to Exodus 21: 13-14, as well as First Kings 1:50, a fugitive could escape into the ancient sanctuary, and grab onto the horns of the altar, and therefore escape vengeance.

That is the way that religious sanctuaries are supposed to work.

They are for people who seek communion with God, and with a religious community, and with a sacred text.

They are also for people who are escaping the often torturous burdens of the world. They enter those sanctuaries like the fugitives of biblical times, figuratively grasping onto the horns of the altar, trying to make sacred meaning out of their lives.

Except that did not happen this past Sunday in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

A gunman entered the First Baptist Church, and opened fire, and before he was finished, 26 people lay dead and numerous people were gravely injured.

As a congregational rabbi, I cannot imagine what next Sunday will be like in that small, rural church.

Neither can I imagine — may God spare us such things — the kind of moral, spiritual, and pastoral courage that its pastor, Frank Pomeroy, must now muster up for his people — with the added, unspeakable agony of his own fourteen year old daughter lying dead before him.

Neither can I imagine what the entire notion of “sanctuary” must now mean, and what it can no longer mean, to that community of faith.

Because the last thing you expect when you enter a house of God is that it will become a house of unspeakable evil.

And not, Mr. President, a house of unspeakable derangement.

For that is President Trump’s clinical understand of what happened in Texas.

Because, if you can write this off as a mental illness, then you are liberated, you think, from confronting the deeper issue.

That is the propensity of human evil, which is aided and abetted by the availability of assault weapons.

Let us be clear. An attack on a house of religion is not only an attack on the worshipers.

It is an attack on God. 

Did anyone else notice the grim coincidence?

This week is the 79th anniversary of Kristallnacht, “the night of broken glass,” the anti-Jewish pogrom of November 9-10, 1938, in which Jewish homes, synagogues, and synagogues in Germany, Austria, and parts of Czechoslovakia were reduced to broken glass.

Consider the savage glee with which Nazis destroyed those synagogues — along with their arks and Torah scrolls.

At the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, an exhibit of the material remnants of Kristallnacht features the Ark of the synagogue in Essen, Germany.

The Ark had been adorned with the traditional words: “Know before Whom you stand.”

But Nazi thugs scratched those words off the Ark.

Imagine — they had ripped the Ark off the wall of the synagogue, thrown it into the street — and in the midst of the chaos that surrounded them, they actually took the time to find a tool, and to remove those words from their holy container.

Because, what were they saying?

“There is no one before Whom you stand, or before Whom we stand, or before Whom the world stands.”

It is as if they were saying that, of all the victims of that night, there would be an additional victim.

God.

Make no mistake of it.

If someone attacks a church, or any other religious institution, the attacker is not only coming after the worshipers. That is, of course, sufficient in its evil. Human beings are the image of God, the very icon of godliness in the world.

But, you don’t have to rip a holy ark off of a synagogue to understand that any attack on a religious institution is, by its very nature, an attack on God.

Here’s the thing: once upon a time, in our mythic world, we might have imagined that God would protect us (and God) from such unmitigated evil.

Nope.

That’s our job.

And we are doing a blisteringly horrific job at it.

 

 

About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.

32 Comments

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  • Or, we could stop talking about god, and start talking about why god and the Religious Right and their republican bootlickers will do nothing about guns as this scenario plays out again and again and again.

  • -> “…Here’s the thing: once upon a time, in our mythic world, we might have imagined that God would protect us (and God) from such unmitigated evil….Nope…That’s our job…And we are doing a blisteringly horrific job at it.”

    Excellent sentiments…Yes, it is only we who can stop this. God, if real, does not allow these massacres in many other places around the world… but is happy to have them occur regularly here in the USA.

    A God who does not act, does not show himself, does not lift a finger to prevent evil — is the same as no God at all !!

  • This world is going to attack Christ more and more because He will not bend to their wishes, We must allow Him to mold us into His image and many are not willing to do that.

  • This is the “Martini Judaism” commentary. Spouting off about Christ here is the same as going to a synagogue to proselytize…

    Quite rude, as usual.

  • Seems you have no idea what God can stop and what God will allow. He calmed the wind and the waves, He has so much authority. Why He allows things, we don’t always understand, but He is Sovereign.
    “A God who does not act, does not show himself, does not lift a finger to prevent evil — is the same as no God at all !!” How do you know He does not lift a finger if the tragedies never happened?

  • Church Clarity took their poll but the result is not clear. Was God with the church or was He not or is He now. Take another poll, you’ll find acceptance higher today.

  • This, at the bottom, is really not about guns at all, at least not directly. The individual in question was badly disturbed, either emotionally, mentally, or spiritually, but his access to guns would have been curtailed if the U.S. Air Force had followed its own mandated protocols regarding the reporting of bad conduct discharges related to domestic violence to the proper federal database. In this case they failed completely to meet the mandate. However, even if Kelley had been denied access to a gun, the troubled individual that he was would have found other means to wreak havoc to other’s cost.

  • Since the Rabbi’s commentary addressed the question of religious sanctuary as applied to all faiths, that opened the door by comments by members of specific faiths; this is a common practice as allowed by the courts in criminal cases, so your inference is flawed and does not apply.

  • Edward, these things don’t happen in other countries anywhere near to the extent they happen in ours. Trump signed a bill (?) a few months ago enabling the mentally ill to get guns. Reagan decimated the mental health budget.

    These things can,t be prevented? Nonsense.

  • Now you did it

    A day & half of crying was over

    Then you just had to bare your soul like this

    Now crying again for my First Baptist Church family

    I thank you brother for reaching out

  • If it is in fact an attack on god, then god revealed himself incapable of protecting his followers. Or perhaps unwilling. In either case, not a fine moment for the omnipotent.

  • Well, as I’m told God is omniscient and all powerful, I don’t imagine an “attack” which he saw coming since forever, and could have prevented had he wished to, is going to bother him too much.

  • o From Schillebeeckx, Church: The Human Story of God,
    Crossroad, 1993, p.91 (softcover)

    “Christians must give up a perverse, unhealthy and inhuman
    doctrine of predestination without in so doing making God the great scapegoat of history” .

    “Nothing is determined in advance: in
    nature there is chance and determinism; in the world of human
    activity there is possibility of free choices. Therefore the
    historical future is not known even to God; otherwise we
    and our history would be merely a puppet show in which God holds the strings. For God, too, history is an adventure, an open history for and of men and women.”

  • I am an atheist but I consider the following conclusions by a modern day theologian an interesting take on god:

    o From Schillebeeckx, Church: The Human Story of God,
    Crossroad, 1993, p.91 (softcover)

    “Christians must give up a perverse, unhealthy and inhuman
    doctrine of predestination without in so doing making God the great scapegoat of history” .

    “Nothing is determined in advance: in nature there is chance and determinism; in the world of human
    activity there is possibility of free choices. Therefore the
    historical future is not known even to God; otherwise we
    and our history would be merely a puppet show in which God holds the strings. For God, too, history is an adventure, an open history for and of men and women.”

  • God’s Omniscience ain’t going anywhere.

    Schillebeeckx is merely offering the standard misguided skeptizoid fodder, to be suitably housed in the nearest haz-mat garbage can.

  • If the Air Force had done its job properly, then this particular event may have been prevented. I am not immune to sensible discussion regarding reasonable firming up of our present gun laws, but I would prefer it to be done carefully and with due respect to present interpretation of the 2nd Amendment as determined by the Supreme Court. People who are sick and enraged will find a way to kill in any case. I fault individuals who, in their pursuit of a hedonistic and selfish way of life damage themselves and others through substance abuse, which is often if not always a precursor to people going sideways mentally and emotionally. I am first, foremost, and always for personal accountability.

  • Edward, substance abuse usually isn’t about hedonism, though it can be. that’s why its called abuse. Nor is it an indication of mental illness, not in the usual usages of the word. But your are right about this: What substance abuse is NOT about are personal accountability and responsibility.
    If our leaders showed any leadership whatsoever, they would be making a case about getting our rampant gun problem under control. We license cars and drivers. We license professions and require training for them. There is no reason we cannot do the same for guns.
    Certainly NOT the 2nd amendment.

  • No, it is attacking a building and, sadly, the people in it. But it is not attacking god. If it was, then god would do something about it.

  • How do you know He is of no help? If the problem didn’t happen because He stopped it, then you don’t know how much He has actually done for us.

  • Well, let me put it this way, licensing is arguably a sound idea. More ardent gun enthusiasts than I see this as a dodge by the govt. for the time when it ultimately decides to confiscate all guns. It will make the process much easier. However, any govt. that decides its time to take away all the guns, or anything else for that matter, will not be hindered by the existence or absence of gun registration. We both have different reasons for distrusting the possible motives of govt., depending on who’s dealing the hand. As a traditionalist and conservative I am somewhat wedded to the “right” of Americans to own guns (No pun intended), still, take all the guns away and I think you’ll find that people will use other violent means to achieve the same end.

  • The attack on the church is an attack on a synagogue, a mosque, a temple…on us! Our right to assemble without fear, to be vulnerable together, has been assaulted. Not only the assailant attacked me, a Jew living in a near suburb of the Bronx. So did Wayne LaPierre and the NRA.

  • Through evolution, we acquired a cerebral cortex capable of making decisions and controlling the limbic system. In that progression of several millions of years and in the interactions between people, we should have gotten a notion of cause and effect. Evidently the process got bent out of shape in too many cases. We misused the freedoms we earned so painfully. People thought their private rage could be vented and it would be okay. It’s not okay.

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