To my brothers and sisters in the Synod of the Trinity:
Just four days ago, the Synod of the Trinity’s annual assembly adjourned after two days spent celebrating and remembering the Rev. Fred Rogers and asking “Won’t you be my neighbor?”
And Saturday, in Fred’s real-life Pittsburgh neighborhood, a man filled with hatred burst into a sacred place and killed 11 people for the simple reason they were Jews.
Lord, have mercy.
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident in our world today. Our society and culture are being overrun with hatred and violence, which are the currency of oppression and demagoguery.
All faiths, whether they be Christian, Muslim, Jewish or any other, have at their core a concern for humanity and care for humankind. It is only the fringe elements of those faiths who preach otherwise.
It is heartening to see the response of the community in Pittsburgh, including some of our Presbyterian leaders and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. But it is heartbreaking that the response is necessary.
“Thoughts and prayers” are certainly appropriate, and needed, at all times.
But we, who profess to follow a loving Christ, a Christ who challenged the power of the day, who challenged us all to love our neighbors, who taught that we are each other’s neighbor, must do more than that.
We must hold ourselves accountable.
We must hold each other accountable.
We must hold our leaders accountable.
We must refrain from adding to the vitriol.
We must refrain from demonizing those with whom we disagree.
We must refrain from retreating to our own safe places.
We must. We must. We must.
A recurring topic of conversation at the Synod, concerns how it – as a body whose main responsibility is to support presbyteries – exercises its prophetic voice. We have talked about hate groups, gun violence, racial and social injustice, the addiction epidemic, the list is unfortunately long.
Friends, responding to this situation is how we raise the prophetic voice we have been wondering about. The tragedy at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh underscores that we must not stand silent.
I urge all Presbyterians, all people, to stop, to reassess, to pray, to act, to – in the words of the Great Ends of the Church – exhibit the kingdom of heaven to the world.
As Carolyn Winfrey Gillette has written in a hymn reacting to the tragedy:
O God, unite us all, no matter how we pray,
and may we work together for a better day —
where all may safely live and have no cause for fear.
May we together seek your peace and justice here.
In the name of the prince of peace, Jesus the Christ, amen.
Ruling Elder John A. Bolt
Synod of the Trinity