Although it has been happening for a long time, there are an increasing number of attacks on institutions, individuals, and houses of faith. Here are a few historic and current examples:
- Fifty years ago, fifteen sticks of dynamite were detonated at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Four African American girls were killed and twenty-two others were injured in the blast at the church known as a center of activity in the civil rights movement.
- Thirty-seven years ago, Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, who spoke tirelessly on behalf of the poor and victims of social injustice, was assassinated in church while offering Mass to the very people he sought to defend and protect.
- Twenty years ago, while serving a church in Florida, I accepted an invitation to visit a mosque and was shown a new hole in the outside wall that was created by a drive-by shooter while the worship service was in progress.
- Eight years ago, I presided at the Congregational Church of Patchogue (Long Island) over the funeral of an undocumented, Latino, hate crime murder victim named Marcelo Lucero. Shortly thereafter we convened an opportunity for alleged victims of hate crimes who did not feel safe going to the authorities, to come to the church to tell their stories without fear of violence, recrimination or deportation. I received numerous physical and verbal threats against my person, my son and my home.
- Five years ago, I took my then teenage son to Dachau concentration camp where, in addition to scores of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals and disabled persons were over 2,000 Catholic priests and other clergy had been imprisoned for speaking-out about Hitler and the Third Reich.
- Two years ago, 21 Coptic Christian migrant workers were beheaded by ISIS on a beach in Libya that turned red with their innocent blood. Their execution was expertly filmed and distributed.
- Two years ago, Dylann Roof murdered nine people, including the senior pastor, at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in hopes of inciting a race riot. He represented himself at trial to ~ in his own words ~ show the world that he was not criminally insane and knew exactly what he was doing.
- A few days after the Emanuel AME church massacre, I and other clergy were briefed at the Police Academy by the Police Commissioner, the Department of Homeland Security, and others on what to do if there is an active shooter loose in the church, mosque or synagogue. The police did their best to educate us and steady our trembling hands.
- One year ago, Donald Trump came to Patchogue, Long Island. We held a Silent Vigil at the church where police were present. They also accompanied me to the venue where Trump was speaking and where I had been invited to meet him. I later received some disturbing mail that frightened our church office personnel who insisted we call the police. We did. They came and made a report.
- Three months ago, I hosted a Post-Inaugural Peace Party on the evening of the marches on Washington, NYC and elsewhere. We wanted to be open just in case of violence at the marches and people wanting a place of peace and solace. Police were at the Peace Vigil for our protection. We appreciated the police care and concern.
- Two months ago, over 100 headstones in a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia were toppled in an act of alleged anti-Semitism.
- One month ago, New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, asked state police to investigate the vandalism of headstones in a Jewish cemetery, citing a “dramatic increase in acts of hate and intolerance.”
- Two weeks ago, 29 Christians were killed and 69 more were injured in a bomb attack on a Coptic Christian church in Egypt on Palm Sunday. The following week, Easter services in many Egyptian churches were cancelled for fear of similar violence and death on the day marking Jesus’ resurrection from a similar fate of unjust violence and death.
I am aware that it is not only religious institutions and people of faith that are being attacked and threatened. I am also aware that the police will never be able to prevent all future atrocities. I am also aware that the first window immediately inside the front door of the Suffolk County Police Department is for weapon permit applications. And I am also aware that just two weeks ago, the Alabama senate voted to allow Briarwood Presbyterian Church to form a private police force that the church believes is necessary to keep their congregation safe.
Many houses of faith (church, mosque, synagogue, etc.) want to be advocates for justice in addressing and confronting injustice and oppression. I accept that there is always inherent danger in speaking truth to power, and in speaking truth to madness. But it seems that these attacks are, in part, an attempt to tell faith leaders and congregations to shut their mouth, lock their doors, and turn a blind eye to injustice or else become a target of terror.
Everybody knows that Islamophobia, racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, etc. is wrong but clergy and others will be less willing to preach it in their houses of faith if the consequence is being next on the hit list of those who dare to speak out.
I humbly ask this online congregation continue to empower and encourage houses of faith to speak and act boldly for justice; but I also ask you to find ways to help houses of faith to provide internal and external security against increasingly frequent and audacious attacks ~ lest fear and vulnerability succeed in silencing this and future generations if violence and intimidation continue unabated.