Gospel & Grace

Recent events remind us of the dangers of religious intolerance.

Today is a celebration. It’s Easter Sunday. Millions of Christians around the world, including myself, are celebrating the rise of their savior. This week was also Passover for those in the Jewish community. Both Easter and Passover celebrate an important religious rise. For Christians, Easter represents a resurrection. For the Jewish, Passover is a celebration of a liberation from the bonds of slavery. This week President Obama both celebrated Easter while hosting his fifth Seder. Obama is the first president to host a Seder in the White House, which indicates a growing awareness of the rights of all to openly celebrate their faith. Yet other very recent events remind us that religious intolerance remains a dangerous part of our society.

(The following was compiled from a CNN report, which you can read here.)

Earlier this month the Anti-Defamation League warned that their could be a possible spike in violent attacks of Jewish targets because of the imminent Passover holiday. The ADL was heartbreakingly accurate in its prediction. Religious extremist Frazier Glenn Cross is suspected of killing a boy, his grandfather and a woman at two Jewish centers in Kansas City, a day before the beginning of Passover. The shootings occurred last Sunday. Cross was apprehended at a nearby elementary school. There is video of the 73-year old shouting “Heil Hitler!” in the back of a patrol car.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Cross was a founder of the Carolina knights of the Klu Klux Klan and an open anti-semite. He spent three years in prison for weapons charges and plotting the assassination of SPLC founder Morris Dees. He received a lighter sentence after a plea bargain in which he testified against 14 other white supremacists in a sedition trial in Arkansas in 1988.

After the shootings, two families are left to grieve and maybe to ask God why?

14-year old Reat Griffin Underwood had traveled to the Jewish community center in Kansas City to try out for an American Idol-style singing competition. He was driven there by his devoted grandfather, William Lewis Corporon. Corporon was a doctor who moved his practice from Oklahoma to Kansas City to be closer to his grandchildren. He had been married to his wife for 49 years. Underwood was a freshman and active in his school’s theater and debate clubs. He was also a member of his church’s choir. He and his grandfather were shot to death in their car outside the center.

The suspect then drove to a Jewish assisted living facility where he shot and killed Terri LaManno who was visiting her mother as she did every week. LaManno worked as an occupational therapist at the Children’s Center for the Visually Impaired in Kansas City. Her Catholic church described LeManno as “a loving mother and wife, and a gentle and giving woman.” Investigators have ruled the shootings a hate crime.

It’s easy to dismiss Cross’s views as “backwards” or even insane. His views are not shared by most of us. Yet they remain extremely dangerous, even lacking a firearm as a bullhorn. Let us remember at one time there was a penniless and talentless artist struggling to survive on the streets of Vienna. No one could have predicted that this man, armed with nothing more than his extremist views and an unquestionable oratorical charisma, would go on to perpetuate the greatest genocide in world history.

Not only is today Easter, it also happens to be the birthday of Adolf Hitler. His legacy is carried on by hate groups around the world. It isn’t only found in the shouts of a zealot, but in a country where nearly one million Jews lost their lives in the Holocaust.

On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry took a moment to address pamphlets that have been circulating around Eastern Ukraine that demanded Jewish citizens older than 16 to “register” and pay a fee of $50 or else “face consequences.” While no authorities have taken responsibility for the pamphlets, they are still a chilling reminder of a scar that will never fully heal.

Tomorrow in Boston runners will compete in the first Boston Marathon following last year’s terrorist attack that claimed the lives of three people and injured over 260 more. We may never know the motivations that led Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev to explode twin pressure-cooker bombs at the finish line of the marathon. There are indications that Tamerlan was becoming radicalized into Islam, and he had been added to a terrorist watch list.

It was Jesus who said “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” As we celebrate Easter and Passover let us remember that religion is supposed to bring us closer to God, not rip apart humanity.

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