People of faith applied the balm of prayer to the disease of hate after a gunman murdered 50 worshipers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 15. Christians, Jews and others prayed with and for Muslims as brothers and sisters, mourning the dead and condemning racist violence.
With each hate crime against a religious community, interfaith solidarity grows. An attack on any peaceful worshiper of God is an attack on all peaceful worshipers of God.
The gunman in New Zealand set out to kill Muslims at Friday prayers. But the target of his white supremacism — an ideology whose followers are growing bolder around the world — could just as well have been Jews in a synagogue, Sikhs in a temple or black Christians in a church. In recent months and years, innocent congregants from each of these faith traditions have been gunned down in their houses of worship.
From our martyr history, Anabaptists know something about being a religious minority marked for death. In the recent history of mass shootings, the 2006 murder of five girls at the West Nickel Mines Amish School in Lancaster County, Pa., seared an Anabaptist community with grief. The girls may not have died in church, but their presence in a 19th-century-style one-room school was as much an expression of their families’ religious faith as going to worship on Sunday morning.
As Anabaptists, we felt the Amish schoolgirls were in some sense a part of us. We could identify with the peculiarities of their community and grasp its ethic of forgiveness, which left the world in awe. We understood how the community’s embrace would heal the families’ wounds.
The Amish-Mennonite kinship is a close one, rooted in theology and genealogy. Other faith groups, particularly those caught in the cross-hairs of hate, are building bridges with longer spans. Jews and Muslims especially are uniting against a rising tide of prejudice.
After the massacre of 11 worshipers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in October, Muslim communities hosted vigils and raised $1.4 million for survivors. Now, Jewish communities are reciprocating.
“When we have mourned and suffered, we’ve known that we have not mourned and suffered alone, and we want you to know that you do not suffer alone,” Jewish leader Jeremy Burton said at an Islamic prayer service in Boston on March 15.
This kind of suffering has become shockingly common. The New Zealand shooting fits a pattern of growing anti-Muslim racism and anti-immigrant sentiment.
“White supremacy is an international threat that knows no borders, being exported and globalized like never before,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, quoted by Religion News Service.
Because many white supremacists claim to be Christian, Christians bear a great responsibility to stand in solidarity with Muslims and Jews.
First Mennonite Church of San Francisco set a good example with vigils supporting a neighboring Jewish community after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting.
The Christian-Muslim Relations Team of Eastern Mennonite Missions continues to break new ground, building bridges of understanding in diverse cultural settings.
A Muslim prayer says, “To God we belong, and to God we shall return.” This divine connection forms the basis of a common cause against racism and terrorism. People of faith have a right to worship without fear. An attack on one is an attack on all.