Posts Tagged ‘Orthodox Presbyterian Church’

When we discovered the age, gender and color of the shooter who walked into a synagogue in Poway, California, and blazed away with his AR-15, we were sickened but not surprised; he fit the profile of most of the people responsible for American mass shootings today. In other recent shootings we have also been sickened, but not surprised to discover the religio-ideological underpinnings of the shooters. They have predictably been a part of white nationalist, supremacist, fascist, quasi-religious hate groups. If there are people who should remain on the domestic terrorist list, they are these.

But then came John Earnest, an active member of a fundamentalist Presbyterian Church.

To be perfectly clear, most members of fundamentalist Christian movements don’t go shooting up Synagogues. This is an anomaly, a sick exception. That said, the seven page manifesto Ernest published before committing the act is troubling to insiders of the very denomination that formed him. Why? Because he used their own theology to make the case for killing Jews. And that should be troubling to us all.

There are aspects of the theology of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church that are common to many Reformed movements. Divine election is one of those doctrines. And Christian exclusivism is another: God chooses who are saved and who are not and the Christian way is superior to every other form of faith. Other religious forms should not only be considered different but heretical and evil. We are the chosen ones, no others, and God judges the rest to Hell.

The outcome of such theological thinking has impact on more than one’s destiny as either the saved or the damned. It has to do with who is defined as acceptable and who is not. It defines the worth of people according to that system. Unfortunately, that translates into a host of other value judgments: Who deserves fair treatment and not, who should be protected and not, and who should be cared for and not.

What is missing, of course, is the essential teaching – found in the same sacred writ – on how one is to love the neighbor and treat the stranger. This absolutely relates to the issue at hand: violence committed in the name of God and justified according to a religious system.

Because the religious movement of John Earnest does not hold to convictions about the importance of reunited of Jews in the homeland of Israel as a part of some apocalyptic prequel, Jews, Israel and Judaism are viewed as superseded and replaced by Christian faith. Therefore, they become unnecessary. Since there is no longer any need to protect the Jews a terrible leap is made: The Jews are obstacles, Christ-killers, a drain on the world, a problem that needs a solution. Our minds already travel back to Germany during the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. Jews were assigned derogatory terms to dehumanize them and make it easier to liquidate them. They were described as objects of scorn that must be disposed.

From the position of Christian and national exclusivism it is a short journey to labeling other groups of people as inferior, evil, parasites, and monsters. This thinking lives like biotics in the bowels of fundamentalist religious systems and seeps out through language. That is the origin of Neo-Nazism today. It flowers when no one bothers to offset that with the preponderance of teaching from the entire Christian tradition. And therein lies the problem.

What the Christian movement of John Earnest is struggling with now is what they did not teach, what they left out, and what may have been assumed but remained unstated. No matter what else they taught, they did not insist that love of the neighbor means you cannot mistreat, torture and slaughter the neighbor. What they ironically left out was, well, Jesus. Over and over again Jesus led people to the merciful God, told stories of love, kindness and faithfulness, and exposed the hypocrisy of using religion to justify prejudice. And Jesus unmistakably critiqued any cultural religion that simply baptized its own biases and covered its greed, arrogance and hatred in stained glass.

After the shooting and the release of his Christo-racist manifesto, the church and family members of John Earnest expressed their horror at such thinking, something they denounced. But the haunting question remains: How could he have draw the conclusion that white supremacy and its most radical expression was acceptable?

Sometimes it is what we leave unspoken that does the greatest harm.