Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:10
I’ve been thinking of these words as I reflect on the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday.
The attack on Tree of Life is a hate crime, targeting people as a religious and cultural group. But it’s not only that. It’s also a persecution of the righteous. It’s an attack on compassion and generosity in the broadest sense, an assault on the common good.
I say this because the shooter explicitly stated his reasons for targeting this community. He didn’t simply hate Jews (although anti-Semitic hate is clearly the basis of his actions); he expressed profound outrage specifically at the work of the Hebrew Immigrant Aide Society.
HIAS is an organization that exists to serve, protect and empower displaced people.
They help those who have been victims of horrendous violence, members of the global family most in need of help in dire circumstances.
Here are the vision, mission and values statements from their website:
HIAS stands for a world in which refugees find welcome, safety, and freedom.
HIAS rescues people whose lives are in danger for being who they are.
We protect the most vulnerable refugees, helping them build new lives and reuniting them with their families in safety and freedom.
We advocate for the protection of refugees and assure that displaced people are treated with the dignity they deserve.
Guided by our Jewish values and history, we bring more than 130 years of expertise to our work with refugees.
Impassioned by our mission, we bring the lessons of HIAS’ history and Jewish ethics and experience to our commitment to serve refugees and other displaced persons of concern around the world through the following values: Welcoming, Dignity and Respect, Empowerment, Excellence and Innovation, Collaboration and Teamwork, and Accountability.
We must all contend with the fact that this was an attack on people who are trying to help, trying to do good, working to heal the world.
People who share the views of the murderer believe that violent and dangerous people may be among the refugees HIAS wants to welcome into healthy communities in the US. Obviously, it’s ironic and absurd for a mass-murderer to claim that refugees might be dangerous. But setting that aside, organizations like HIASS are eager to debate the most prudent and safe ways to support our global neighbors who are in desperate need of help. They agree that caution is necessary in providing aide. That fact is irrelevant to terrorists like the shooter in Pittsburgh. Compassion and benevolence are capital crimes in his mind, if they are extended to people he fears.
I’m sure you know many people and organizations who spend their days putting fundamental principles of faith, hope and love into action. They are making generosity and goodwill into lived realities.
This calamity is an attack on them – it’s an attack on goodness itself, and it won’t be the last. It’s up to us all to demonstrate that the practitioners of grace and the sowers of peace will not stop their work, even facing the menace of hatred.
The Table is a Christian Church in Davenport, Iowa, pursuing transformation:
From greed toward generosity
From violence toward peacemaking
From isolation toward neighborliness
From fear toward faith
Worship Sundays at 5pm, 102 E. 2nd St., Davenport