Mere words can only hint at the grief, anger, and pain rippling through every enlightened synagogue, mosque, church, and temple as we witnessed yet another attack on a house of worship. Actions always speak louder than words, so let me begin with the embodiment of courage and compassion that will cage such hate if not finally vanquish it.
Temple Beth-El in Geneva leaped without hesitation to fill an emergency gap last year, not knowing ahead of time what it would cost or require of them. They did it, I might add, without fanfare and without self-congratulatory hoopla.
The temple opened their doors, which means they opened their hearts and minds and wallets, to host the Family Promise homeless program day center when the Canandaigua Zoning Board improperly ruled against St. John’s Episcopal Church, where the center was originally to be housed. Despite very short notice, and uncertainty about how they would need to adapt their own space and adjust their own programing to accommodate the emergency, the temple simply did it. Now, more than a year later, a judge has ruled against the City of Canandaigua (with a fiercely critical verdict) and the day center will be moved to St. John’s.
All of that went under the radar of most of the city and town of Geneva, as does a lion’s share of the actions that many houses of worship do in their communities. If somehow every community of faith were suddenly sucked out Geneva, or anywhere else, the dark and painful emptiness left behind would be stunning. Even those who are active in a faith community would likely be surprised by the size and terrible dimension of the black hole that would appear.
It is not all social service activity either – like Family Promise, the Community Lunch, Center for Concern, etc. Where else do people diametrically opposed to one another politically, gather for food around a common table, the study of books, and singing together? If we think the level of social alienation is dangerous now, remove all the communities of faith that welcome diversity and there would be an explosion.
Mother Emanuel, Charleston, SC; three historically black churches in St. Landry Parish, LA; 1stBaptist, Southerland Springs, TX; Burnette Chapel, Nashville, TN; Sikh Temple, Oak Creek, WS; Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center, Bloomington, MN; Tree of Life synagogue, Pittsburg, PA; Congregation Chabad, Poway, CA. These are the notorious media-swarmed attacks but do not include countless acts of vandalism and threats against synagogues, mosques, and churches all over the United States. But let us be clear: the targets are racially and ethnically focused and the attackers are mostly white nationalists with a demented and deranged form of Christianity.
To cage such hatred, it is incumbent upon individual Christians and predominantly white congregations to find ways to publicly witness against nationalist rhetoric, racist and anti-Semitic behavior, and manipulated Christian theology used to support any of it. I am challenging my brothers and sisters to stand up in Geneva. I will give the first twenty people to contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) a “Hate Has No Home Here” window poster for free, and take orders for the same poster in a yard sign version (five dollars per sign). May these posters bloom all over Geneva with the spring.