Auburn Senior Fellows Statement: Nationalism has No Branch on the Tree of Life

The Tree of Life, a shared symbol across religions, is being shaken at its roots as we witness increasing acts of violence, from hate marches to mail bombs to the horrific shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Violence is increasing across our country as the President doubles-down on his call to nationalism. Nationalism is not patriotism; nationalism is not love of country. Nationalism is a dangerous lurch backward to the darkest days of our history and a silent creep forward toward an increasingly dangerous day for our nation. Auburn Senior Fellows across the U.S., are calling on all people of faith and moral courage to speak and act with courageous and outspoken love so that all may find comfort in the Tree of Life, even as we mourn the 11 killed and pray for the 6 wounded at the Pittsburgh synagogue that carries its name:

It is a tree of life to all who grasp it, and whoever holds on to it is happy; its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all it paths are peace.

(Proverbs 3:17-18)

Auburn Senior Fellows, 25 of today’s top faith leaders offering outspoken opinions, compelling stories and broad expertise, bringing justice-centered faith to today’s pressing challenges.

Statements follow from:

  • Rabbi Sharon Brous, founding Rabbi, IKAR
  • Bishop William Barber II. Bishop William Barber II, Poor People’s Campaign
  • Brian D. McLaren, best-selling author, activist and innovative faith leader
  • Lisa Sharon Harper, Founder/President, Freedom Road LLC
  • Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Executive Director, T’ruah
  • Rev. Michael-Ray Mathews, Faith in Action
  • Bishop Minerva G. Carcano, Resident Bishop of the San Francisco Area of The United Methodist Church
  • Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS, Executive Director of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice and NETWORK’s Nuns on the Bus
  • Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, Senior Minister, Middle Collegiate Church
  • Rabbi Stephanie Kolin, Central Synagogue
  • Valarie Kaur, Sikh Activist and Founder of the Revolutionary Love Project
  • Rev. Jennifer Butler, CEO, Faith in Public Life
  • Stosh Cotler, Executive Director, Bend the Arc
  • Rev. Traci D. Blackmon, Executive Minister, Justice & Local Church Ministries, The United Church of Christ
  • Bishop Yvette Flunder, Presiding Bishop of The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries
  • Rev. Dr. Katharine Rhodes Henderson, President, Auburn Seminary

Rabbi Sharon Brous, founding Rabbi, IKAR:

“I wish we were in a position to ignore the President’s racist dog whistles, but when the hate flows from the highest office in the land, we cannot and will not be silent. Last week, explosives were sent to the homes of the Clintons, the Obamas, George Soros, CNN offices and others. Then on Saturday, we saw the most violent anti-Semitic attack in our nation’s history, after months of the President attacking “globalists” like Soros—a classic anti-Semitic trope—for “cheating” American workers. The message is clear: a proud and unapologetic endorsement of a violent, white supremacist agenda.

Words matter. Violent speech and demonization matter. History has taught us this — we must not ignore it now.

Even as we grieve, even as Tree of Life in Pittsburgh joins the sad and sorry list of sacred spaces that have become sites of massacre in America, even as we struggle to hold the enormity of this tragedy, we must be clear-headed about what prompted this mass shooting. There is a disease of hatred in the culture of this nation—Pittsburgh is only the latest deadly expression of it.

We must remember: The President’s language is the desperate cry of dying political ideology as old as America itself– rooted in racialized hatred and division. But there is a new America being born, and it is fierce, gorgeous and fair. It is multifaith and multiracial. It is built on justice and mercy, and it makes room for everyone.”

Bishop William Barber II, Poor People’s Campaign:

“Whether white nationalism or religious nationalism, God Calls us to be neither. Nationalism suggests a commitment to one country to a fault. Patriotism is a love for country that is willing to call it to question and challenge its flaws.

As people faith we are called to be faithful to the principles of Love, justice and mercy, and Truth. We are called to be the prophets to the nations; not the Puppets of any president, any slogan or law that violates the fundamental humanity of any person.”

Rabbi Stephanie Kolin, Central Synagogue:

“For Sikhs, Muslims, Christians, and Jews, praying and being in community and celebrating holy time has become an act of courage. Prayer should be an act of courage because we are making ourselves existentially vulnerable to God, others, and ourselves, not because we might be about to be murdered in our pew. But we will not be turned away from our sacred spaces because of hate.

I’m feeling so sad. For everyone at Shabbat services in Tree of Life Synagogue and their families, for my Jewish people, for all people of faith who didn’t ask for this, but are at the center of it, and for our country. From our grieving, we will move to action because we must.”

Brian D. McLaren, best-selling author, activist and innovative faith leader:

“George Orwell’s description of nationalism: ‘Every nationalist is capable of the most flagrant dishonesty, but he is also—since he is conscious of serving something bigger than himself—unshakably certain of being in the right’, reminds me why biblical communities were always so passionately against idolatry. Something bigger than oneself can be God … or it can a golden calf, a gold coin, or any number of fuhrers and fascists and their absolutist nationalist ideologies.

As a Christian pastor, interfaith spiritual leader, and fallible human being, I’m keenly aware of the temptation we all face to take short-cuts … to wealth by theft, to social acceptance by bragging and lying, to a feeling of well-being or pain reduction through drug abuse, and short-cuts to a healthy sense of individual or group identity by buying into nationalism. Short-cuts often turn out to be dead ends, or worse, they take us to places we never would have gone if we weren’t being misled.”

Lisa Sharon Harper, Founder/President, Freedom Road LLC:

“Nationalism calls its followers to make the state the foundational source of identity and place of belonging. It is a direct affront to Christian faith, which calls its followers to radical love of God, neighbor, “the other” and enemy. To follow Jesus is to follow the king of the peaceable Kingdom of God! Nationalism is, therefore, idolatry. It dethrones and replaces God with the leader of the nation/state. By normalizing nationalism, Donald Trump is calling his base, the majority of whom are Evangelicals, to follow him—away from God.”

Bishop Yvette Flunder, Presiding Bishop of The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries:

“I am listening for a call to Peace and an end to violence from religious leaders who have supported the vitriol of this present administration.

We cannot hear you condemning the bomb threats and murder on innocents. Perhaps because this administration is providing a platform for religious bigotry

Where is your rage against this evil? We cannot hear you!

It is the height of arrogance to believe that hatred unleashed can be controlled and directed

It is time for Prayer and Action.

Now, Holy and Loving God (Good) send the Wind of Your Spirit, across the boundaries of religion, race, politics, sexuality and all the pseudo fences now clearly revealed.

In this hate-filled hour, I and countless others sense You. Show Yourself Strong!”

Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Executive Director, T’ruah:

“Tonight, we mourn with the members of Tree of Life Synagogue, Congregation Dor Hadash, New Light Congregation and the entire Jewish community of Pittsburgh. We are devastated and outraged at the horrific terrorist murder in this sacred space.

Oh that my head were water and my eye a fountain of tears; so that I could cry all of my days and my nights…In the bitterness of my anguish and sorrow, I choose to shout. I recall this day the killing in the holy communities…For the House of Israel and for the people of God who are fallen by the sword. (Kalonymous Ben Yehudah, Trans. Rabbinical Assembly, Siddur Tisha B’Av)

The rabbis and cantors of T’ruah hold in our hearts our colleagues Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers and Rabbi Jonathan Perlman, who now face the heartbreaking task of supporting his community through the days of mourning ahead.

Today’s murders are a hate crime, a violent act of anti-Semitism by a white nationalist with too easy access to military-grade automatic weapons. We must not ask ourselves, “How did this happen here?” Our history, both as Americans increasingly numb to mass shootings and as Jewish survivors of religiously motivated violence and killings, provides us with the answers. Only by passing comprehensive gun reform legislation and combating white nationalism can we truly become a nation about which we can say, “May there be peace within your walls, security within your gates.” (Psalms 122:7)

We have seen once again that violent speech, and tacit endorsement of such speech especially from the highest levels of power, leads tragically to violent action. As Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and Life are in the hand of the tongue.”

We also express our solidarity with our colleagues at HIAS, who were targeted with online hate by the shooter for their ongoing dedication to keeping America’s doors open to those fleeing violence and oppression. This commitment stands at the heart of what it means to be Jewish. In the morning’s Torah reading, we read both of the wickedness of the city of Sodom — condemned, per the Talmud, because of their cruelty toward immigrants and travelers; and of Abraham, who teaches us that welcoming strangers is even greater than welcoming the divine presence.

The terrorist who carried out today’s horrific act hoped to scare us from being public as Jews, and from acting on our Jewish commitments to stand with immigrants and refugees. Like generations of Jews before us, we refuse to give in to terror. “

Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, Senior Minister, Middle Collegiate Church:

“Dear Jewish Family everywhere, and especially those in Pittsburgh: My heart breaks that your Shabbat was shattered with violence and death. From Sikhs in Oak Creek to Christians in Charleston to Jews in Pittsburgh–I am devastated that we live in a nation so filled with hatred, xenophobia and racism, that we are not safe EVEN to be in our houses of worship. I pray for every family who lost a loved one. I pray for the injured to recover quickly. I pray for all the children — from the little one being named, to the teens — who all are tasting fear. I pray the God who is Love will help us to heal the hatred that kills.

And even as we pray, we must act. In the name of Jesus, whose Hebrew name was Jeshua, who himself was a Jew, we Christians must repent of any anti-Semitism and xenophobia. And we must do as he commanded.

We must love our God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength, and we must love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Loving our neighbor means respecting their spiritual path, honoring their religion, and together, creating a peaceful world in which we co-exist in our beautiful diversity.

Loving our neighbor means acting to get assault weapons off the street. And no matter what statements POTUS makes today, loving our neighbor means speaking the truth to him. It means condemning his language, his policies and practices that lead to a culture of violence.

We must pray. We must act. We must love. And we must reject evil. Nationalist. White Supremacist. Xenophobe. Homophobe. Transphobe. Racist. Sexist. Liar. Dangerous. Commander-in-Chief. This is POTUS.

Our love for each other must fire this president and this hate mongering. We must act at the polls. Step-by-step. Before it is too late.”

Rev. Michael-Ray Mathews, Faith in Action:

“Days prior to declaring his opposition to human beings seeking a better life in the United States, President Trump publicly affirmed what many of us have wondered privately: that he is sympathetic to white supremacists. Our faith commands us to love and see all people, regardless of their place of birth, as human beings. We are 100 percent at odds with President Trump’s message of hate and xenophobia.”

Rev. Traci D. Blackmon, Executive Minister, Justice & Local Church Ministries, The United Church of Christ:

“In moments like these, when we are grieving so deeply the lives that have been taken and the people who have been wounded and how we have all been made to feel a little less safe. In moments like these, when anti-Semitism and islamophobia and racism and xenophobia and transphobia are on the rise, sanctioned by policies and political and religious rhetoric designed to instill fear of one another in our hearts and minds, we must remember that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. And as difficult as it may be in this moment to see beyond our loss, our collective strength is in what remains. ‘And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.’

Not love simply as an emotional response, but love as a collective resolve.

Love that refuses to be consumed by hate. Love that removes the barriers between our faiths and our fears. Love that causes us to see the Divine in one another, and having seen what is holy in the other refuses to let hate win. Love that demands accountable and respectful speech from those in authority. Love that demands sensible gun control in a country that has lost its way. Love that says when one hurts we all hurt, when one grieves, we all grieve, when one is unsafe, we all are unsafe. Love that gives life and refuses to let hate breathe.”

Stosh Cotler, Executive Director, Bend the Arc:

“Now we are overcome with grief and heartbreak at the unconscionable act of terror during morning prayers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. We are sending our condolences, our love, our strength and our support to the victims, their families, the entire Pittsburgh Jewish community, and all who are in tears. May the memories of those murdered be a blessing.

This is a moment when we are all called — Jews and allies — to gather together in community, to mourn, to hold each other, to share our sadness and our outrage. It is also a moment when we must call on all Americans of conscience to see with clear eyes that the political violence targeting our communities, driven by anti-Semitism and racism, has become normalized in our social and political life.

This attack comes after weeks of escalated conspiracy theories and rhetoric scapegoating Jewish people, including philanthropist George Soros, which have been driven by candidates for office, arms of the Republican Party, and the President of the United States in campaign ads and at rallies. These expressions of hate are not new in our society, but rarely have they been legitimized by such a powerful and visible platform. The mainstreaming of white nationalism in American politics means that our nation is ripe for the type of violence we have witnessed today, this week and throughout the Trump presidency. This charged environment is directed not only against Jews, but also against immigrants, Muslim people, people of color, LGBTQ people, and all other communities under threat in this political environment. We saw these trends culminate and our worst fears realized in a synagogue in Pittsburgh.

This violence must end. Americans, Jewish and otherwise, must no longer be forced to live in fear for their lives. And we must unite to build a country where we are all safe and protected.”

Bishop Minerva G. Carcano, Resident Bishop of the San Francisco Area of The United Methodist Church:

“Bringing forth the best of our patriotism and who we are is a good thing. Nationalism is another matter. We live on the same globe called to be stewards of this same globe together, as one. Nationalism separates us from each other, limiting and even destroying the possibilities for caring for each other and the earth we share.”

Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS, Executive Director of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice and NETWORK’s Nuns on the Bus:

“This is dog whistle politics from President Trump, meant to stir up fear and violence to divide us. Our leaders need to live up to the promise of ‘We the People’, where we work for the general welfare. President Trump needs to stop this divisive behavior and turn to real leadership.”

Valarie Kaur, Sikh Activist and Founder of the Revolutionary Love Project:

“In the wake of the shooting in the #TreeofLife synagogue, this is my message to the shooter and all those who seek to silence us, intimidate us, and kill us: Your hate will not break us. In our grief and outrage and pain, still we rise. To my Jewish sisters, brothers, and siblings: We weep with you today. We will not leave your side. We know that bloodshed in a house of worship is an attack on an entire community. I will never forget looking into the caskets of the six people killed in the mass shooting in a Sikh gurdwara in WI in 2012 — and seeing the faces of my own family. I will also never forget the thousands of people who showed up to grieve with us — and gave us energy to organize in the months and years to follow. Today we mourn together. Tomorrow we organize together.”

Rev. Jennifer Butler, CEO, Faith in Public Life:

“As a pastor and mother, my heart breaks for the dead, the injured and the grieving at Tree of Life Congregation. This is a moment for prayer and action in the face of anti-Semitism and gunfire. People of faith will work to heal our communities and to confront hatred. And it’s long past time for our elected officials to step up and do their part to stop the proliferation of gun violence and white nationalism. Prayer and grief must be followed by commitment and action.”

Rev. Dr. Katharine Rhodes Henderson, President, Auburn Seminary:

“We have spoken of living a faith that rises up to resist the status quo and the white nationalism that threatens our democracy. I condemn the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, but that is not enough; it is nowhere near enough. I pray for those whose lives were taken by this horrific act, but that is not enough; it is nowhere near enough. Today, we need to go to the root of the rising hate in this country and that leads us directly to the White House and Donald Trump.

The shooter reportedly shouted ‘All Jews must die’ before beginning his attack, and on social media singled out Jewish groups that supported immigrants’ rights in America. According to the Anti-Defamation League, anti-Semitic ‘incidents’ in the United States jumped 57 percent between 2016 and 2017.

This administration has allowed for the rising anti-Semitism in our country to go unanswered and even helped foment it — from refusing to condemn anti-Semitic chants in Charlottesville to leading chants to lock up the Holocaust survivor, Jewish philanthropist George Soros this week.

I call upon the administration to repent for aiding and abetting the rising hatred of all kinds within our country, to explicitly reject the anti-Semitism that is festering in the toxic atmosphere of our national discourse.

I ask my sisters and brothers in faith communities of all kinds to see that these acts of violence on our Jewish, People of Color, LGBTQ, Muslim and immigrant families are related and connected. This is not about partisanship. This is about turning the tide on wave after wave of hatred and discriminatory violence.

I stand in solidarity with all my Jewish friends, neighbors and loved ones across the country and around the world. You are not alone. And today we shed hot tears of anguish and anger and pledge to end the disgusting scourge of anti-Semitism in all its forms.”

Take Action Today

Send a prayer or note of love and support to the communities at Tree of Life / Or L’Simcha, Pittsburgh, PA, and let them know you’re joining them in the pursuit of justice. 

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