The latest rash of terrorist arson attacks against African American churches in St. Louis and across the country is an assault against core democratic and religious beliefs. We read with revulsion the most recent incidents of this disturbing behavior. We decry the aggression and hatred of this practice and demand that those who have perpetuated it are swiftly brought to justice.
As Americans we protest the wanton destruction of ANY house of worship as an affront to our constitution and civil society. Burning a house of worship violates our commitment to one another that everyone should be able to practice their faith without interference and intimidation. How can we claim there is freedom of religion when a group wakes up in the morning to find its gathering place lies in cinders and ashes? These attacks not only violate freedom of religion but by extension, the freedom of assembly and the freedom of speech. To destroy someone’s church is not only an attack on property. It is also an attack upon the persons who frequent it and those like it. It says: “If I take offense to what you are saying and doing I will retaliate by burning down your house of worship.” Such a claim has no place in a nation that aspires to be just and free.
As Jews, as progressive people of faith, the intentional destruction of a house of worship is an act of heresy, blasphemy, and apostasy. I am not, nor will I ever be a Christian, but to my Christian brothers and sisters, I say this: an attack against a church is an attack against the essence of Christ. To my fellow human beings of ALL faiths the equivalent statement applies to you as well. To violate a place dedicated to the service of God is to attack against the idea of God itself. No one can honestly claim to be God-fearing person while setting fire to a house of God. There can be no rationalization, intellectualization or justification for such an appalling contradiction.
With haunting and prophetic accuracy Henrich Heine predicted “Where they burn books, they will also ultimately burn people.” Consider the implications of that when what is being burned is a church. As Americans we condemn the burning of houses of worship as an anathema to our values. As Jews, we condemn it as a form of apostasy that violates the promise and purpose of religious life. Our prayers go out to the pastors and parishioners of every church that has been attacked. Looking at the overwhelming destruction around him the prophet Jeremiah said: “Let us rise up and rebuild”. May the victims of these vile attacks be blessed with the will and the resources to fulfill the prophet’s vision. May crimes of hate be defeated by acts of love. May the curse of violence be overtaken by the blessing of peace.