SFTS Response to Recent Violence: A Message from President Rev. Dr. Jim McDonald

The massacre of 11 congregants inside the Tree of Life Synagogue as they were in prayer last Saturday sent a shudder of horror and revulsion through this Christian community. It is a chilling reminder of the tenacity of anti-Semitism over the centuries that threatens the Jewish people with annihilation, and that is a malformation of the human spirit that has grown more virulent and deadlier in recent years, in this country and around the world. Once again, our hearts are broken by this evil act of senseless violence. We mourn with the families, friends, and community of those whose lives were taken, and extend our sympathy to those who were injured – including four police officers. We grieve their losses as our losses. Our tears are mingled with theirs. The shattering of their community is also the shattering of ours. As they seek to rebuild their lives and their community, we must do our part to repair and reform ours as well.

As Christians, we must confess our own complicity in fostering the anti-Semitism that rages even today. For many centuries, dominant voices in the Christian tradition blamed the Jews for the death of Jesus, a misunderstanding of the meaning of his death and a gratuitous attempt to deflect our own responsibility as human beings for his crucifixion. Bad Christian theology has served to justify the hatred that fueled anti-Semitism, including that of the perpetrator of last Saturday’s massacre. As Christians, we must repent of that bad theology and atone for the contempt it encourages. We renounce any theology that demonizes the Jewish people and we affirm our common humanity as children of the one holy and loving God, the Creator of the universe. The power of love must prevail, and it will – not only through our words, but through our actions as well.

Saturday’s synagogue shooting comes at the end of a week of hate-fueled actions expressed in the killing of two African American elders in Kentucky, mail-bomb threats on the lives of Democratic Party leaders and prominent supporters, the willful maligning of those fleeing violence and terror in Central America, and an attack on the identity and rights of transgender persons. The U.S. president and many in his political party cannot seem to refrain from the urge to sow division, discord, and animosity – with rhetoric that encourages violence and contempt – while disavowing any responsibility for the consequences of their rhetoric and pronouncements. Our political system can do better – and it must. The responsibility for changing it rests with each of us. Please remember to vote, and to vote for leaders who are committed to a politics of inclusion, respect, honesty, and compassion.

San Francisco Theological Seminary pledges itself to exemplify the love of God as expressed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. From our students to our staff to our faculty to our trustees and beyond, we are committed to fostering a just community that embraces differences—both here on campus and around the world. Always celebrating one another. And always with humility.

We recognize that this work is hard and absolutely vital. And we ask for grace along the journey. The image of God is made of diversity, equity, and inclusion. And SFTS will do all it can to reflect that image in its community, campus, and our greater world.