The Tree of Life Massacre – One Year Later

Yard Sign

It’s hard to believe that it’s been one year since the unconscionable slaughter of eleven innocent worshipers at the Tree of Life Congregation in Squirrel Hill (a part of the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania). I’m reminded of my first feeble attempt to “do something” and to “take a stand” after a senseless tragedy that left me both numb and speechless each time I see the sign in the front yard of my home.

We have been challenged to think and to reflect in the last year. Many of us have grown and have been changed as we took a more honest look at ourselves in the mirror and as we’ve wrestled with what we believe about other people. Faith leaders in the Pittsburgh area have traveled for many miles – coming from churches, mosques, synagogues and temples – to join in both open and honest conversations that have helped us to better understand each other and the faith traditions that we represent. God has been at work in our communities to challenge us, to soften our hearts, to open our ears and hearts to the voices of others, and to stretch both our patterns of thinking and faith.

The last year has, also, been a time when leaders and members of spiritual communities in Southwestern Pennsylvania have worked hand-in-hand to create a Statement that we, as leaders of different faith traditions, believe expresses the principles and beliefs that we can embrace together. I am providing a copy of this newly released Statement to you, and am hoping that you will take some time to read it, to reflect upon it and even to pray about it. We, as faith leaders in Southwestern Pennsylvania, believe that our faith traditions challenge us: to recognize the dignity and worth of those around us; to speak boldly and clearly against racial supremacy, demonization of those from other cultures and religions, and the violent acts that grow from those bitter roots; to stand in solidarity with minority and marginalized communities; and to repent from our own complicity in words and deeds that have expressed individual and systemic bigotry, racial and religious supremacy, and oppression.

We have committed ourselves to building more loving communities and neighborhoods that uplift the oneness of humanity and the worth of every individual, and that bind us to one another as moral neighbors in both trying and peaceful times even as we continue to both recognize and accept the fact that we believe many different things about both God and our world because of our different faith traditions.

I am now presenting this Statement to you hoping that you will take some time to read it, to ponder it, to pray about it, and to allow it to both challenge you and lead you toward the new kind of life that God calls us to embrace in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

Living Faithfully with One Another

As leaders and members of spiritual communities, we are called to interpret and draw guidance from sacred texts and traditions.

The sacred texts of the world religions all affirm the created dignity and worth of each individual and our sacred responsibility toward those in need. As we interpret our own sacred traditions in preaching, teaching, meditation or prayer, we will lift up these values.
As leaders and members of spiritual communities, we are called to speak and act in support of the dignity and worth of each person.

With sacred texts and traditions as our guides, we reject the theories and rhetoric of racial supremacy, the demonization of those of other cultures and religions, and the violent acts which grow from these bitter roots. We embrace the right of all people to worship (or not to worship) according to the dictates of their own consciences, and we expect the government to respect this freedom.
As leaders and members of spiritual communities, we are called to speak and act in solidarity with those in need.

We turn with compassion toward those in our midst who have the greatest cause for fear and insecurity. We stand in solidarity with all marginalized and minority communities, especially those who have been targets of injustice, discrimination, prejudice, and hate. When any of us are attacked in word or deed, we promise our support, help, and protection.
As leaders and members of spiritual communities, we are called to speak truth to those in positions of power.

Our voices must be spoken and heard in public discourse. We seek to bring the perspectives of sacred traditions to bear in our shared public life. We call upon and remind elected, appointed, and professional leaders throughout our community to uphold and enforce the values of justice, fairness, nondiscrimination, and dignity.
As leaders and members of spiritual communities, we are called to high standards of self-reflection.

We call upon ourselves, our faith communities, and our institutions to acknowledge and repent for complicity in words and deeds that express individual or systemic bigotry, racial or religious supremacy, and oppression. We are committed to growing in wisdom and inclusivity as we learn from one another.
As leaders and members of spiritual communities, we are called to live abundantly, joyously and harmoniously with one another.

We will work resolutely to strengthen the ties that bind us to one another as moral neighbors in both trying and peaceful times. When and where we disagree in our understandings, we commit to acknowledge, listen to, and value the perspectives of others even as we respectfully present our differing opinions.

We covenant to create, expand and nurture a community of mutual support throughout Southwest Pennsylvania. Seeking Divine help and guidance, we commit to building the beloved community, a neighborhood of neighborhoods that lovingly uplifts the oneness of humanity and the worth of every individual.

October 3, 2019
Pittsburgh, PA

In God We Trust

In God We Trust

Every piece of money in the United States contains the phrase: “In God We Trust.”

A pastor from Pennsylvania first suggested that we add that phrase to our coins in 1861 to ensure that God would protect Union soldiers during the Civil War. The phrase was removed in 1907 by President Roosevelt because he believed that printing the words “In God We Trust” on our money was an unhealthy mingling of God and mammon. President Eisenhower approved adding the phrase to all of our money – both coins and paper bills – because he believed that it was important to draw a sharp distinction between the faith of the American people and the godlessness of the Communists. And, by 1983, Supreme Court justices ruled that the phrase, “In God We Trust,” didn’t need to be removed from our money because, by that time, the phrase had lost all religious significance.

And yet, even in 2019, we struggle to make sense of what those words mean. Some argue that America was created to be a Christian nation, while others argue that our Founders created our nation to be a place where the government was prevented from choosing a particular religion. Christian Nationalists continue to teach that America is a Christian nation even though people like Thomas Jefferson created their own Bibles by retaining only the portions of the Bible that they believed were helpful for moral instruction, and even though people like Thomas Paine set the Bible aside in favor of personal spiritual experience.

And so, what do we do with passages like Psalm 33 that contain the words: “Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord“? How do we live, as people of faith, remembering that it is ordinary people, not God, who have drawn the lines in the dirt that separate counties, states, and even nations that exist in the world today?

The psalmist reminds us that “from where God sits enthroned, God watches over ALL the inhabitants of the earth.” The prophet Micah also reminds us that, as God watches over ALL the peoples of the earth, God sends messengers to reminds us that one of our most holy callings in life is to “act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8)

The psalmist tells us, in Psalm 33, that the hope of a better future isn’t going to be found in trusting people who call us to build bigger armies, and who challenge us to find new ways to be bigger and stronger than people who live on the “other side” of the lines that we’ve drawn in the dirt. The psalmist tells us that the hope of a better future isn’t going to be found by silencing people who don’t think about life in the same ways that we do, and by continuing to separate ourselves into smaller and smaller pieces – until we get to the point where even all the King’s horses and all the King’s men can’t find a way to put us back together again.

Instead, the psalmist challenges us to envision God as a God who’s watching over ALL the nations of the world. The psalmist challenges us to rediscover a level of the soul that God has placed inside of us that connects us to every other living Being.

“In God We Trust” in a mighty statement.

How can we use that statement as something that binds us together as people who are called to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly in the presence of God in a world where people are using that phrase to separate us and to drive deep wedges between us?

Click Here to Listen to This Week’s Message