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How can Houses of Worship Counter Violent Attacks?

A recent appearance by Congressman Adam Schiff at All Saints Church in Pasadena has sparked a debate amongst houses of worship about means to counter violent anti-religious hate and bigotry in our communities. The evening sadly took on new significance as the gathering was held days after a man motivated by white supremacist ideology killed 22 people in El Paso, Texas.

Congressman Adam Schiff at All Saints Church in Pasadena

There is no escaping the clear and present danger of domestic terrorism and hate crimes motivated by white supremacist ideology, and the terrible urgency we face to confront it. Treating the violence in El Paso as though it is unrelated to the mass shootings in Pittsburgh and Charleston, is to deny the pervasiveness of the problem.

When our political leaders normalize hatred and bigotry in our country, there are real and dangerous consequences. It’s up to us to mobilize, organize and demand better. 

Across the country there is a renewed energy to address the root cause of these violent acts.

This event was a poignant reminder that there is no better antidote to hate than love and community.

As Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block explained in The Hill, the attack to his synagogue in Poway was part of a larger “rise in white nationalist violence that threatens all manner of communities and places of worship in the United States and around the world, from synagogues to mosques to Sikh temples to black churches … All are flashpoints in a larger story.”

Our nation has a shameful history of such attacks on houses of worship.

Most Americans know of the 1963 bombing of the 16th Baptist Street Church in Birmingham, Alabama, when Ku Klux Klan members murdered four young girls. African-American churches suffered countless arsons, bombings, and attacks during the civil rights era. Synagogues and mosques also suffered such attacks. In the 1990s, a gunman attacked a Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles, and a series of fire-bombings hit black churches across the South.

...there is no better antidote to hate than love and community.

In the week following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack, there were 25 attacks on mosques including vandalism, arson, gunshots, or physical assaults on worshippers. In 2015, the attack on worshippers in Charleston, South Carolina, left nine people dead.

After A&E Networks published their intent to target the Jehovah’s Witnesses starting December 2017. Beginning in March 2018 and continuing through December 2018, five Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Halls were burned and one gunned with 35 rounds.

Most recently we saw fatal attacks on worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, a string of arsons of black churches across the South, and the attack at a synagogue in Poway in April.

This violence, however, is not confined to the United States, as the attack on the Al Noor mosque in New Zealand demonstrated or the January 26, 2019, twin blasts at a Roman Catholic cathedral in Jolo, Philippines that killed 20 and wounded over 100 others.

On January 3, 2019 a 24-year-old staff member of a Sydney Church of Scientology was stabbed to death by a Taiwanese national who frequented a website devoted to promoting hate from a TV show.

Within the United States, the SPLC found that white nationalist groups had a 50 percent increase in 2018.

Last week, SPLC Senior Research Analyst Cassie Miller spoke at a congressional briefing on hate crimes and the rise of white nationalism. Miller noted that “at a time when it is so obvious that white nationalism is surging in the United States and it's leading to acts as grotesque as people being murdered in their houses of worship, this administration is choosing to divert from programs and personnel that might actually halt the process of radicalization and save lives.”

We need law enforcement – from our local police precincts to the FBI – to improve reporting on hate crimes, enforcement of existing hate crime legislation, and the staffing of departments focused on the prevention of hate crimes. We need tech companies to step up and do their part to stop the spread of hate on their platforms. 

And we need our elected officials to take these threats seriously.



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