We cannot allow terrorists to lay claim to the values of our communities.
Once again, a terrorist has come into a place of peace and used community as a cover to commit an act of evil. In this case, he claimed to be working for the advancement of the white, Christian community.
“Hate has no religion,” Gamal Abdel-Hafiz, of the Islamic Association of Lewisville and Flower Mound (Texas), said at a vigil the Friday after the massacre. Acts of violence committed in the name of religion are not a new phenomenon. But these acts are not now and have never been about religion. They are about power, control, and fear of people who are different.
Terrorists do not have the right to claim the values of any community, be it religious or secular. Australian values are not represented by this shooter any more than American values are represented by the Pittsburgh shooter. Nor are Saudi Arabian values represented by the men who destroyed the twin towers.
Disowning evil beliefs
Communities are often expected to own the evil that comes out of them, to acknowledge that they may have been complicit somehow in creating that evil. This is the wrong path. When we force a community to own the evil, we give a home to evil beliefs. We shift the window of acceptable values to include what should be unacceptable.
The man who attacked the mosques in New Zealand does not define my friends’ Christian culture. In fact, they explicitly reject his beliefs. As my Muslim friends explicitly reject the murderous ideas touted by organizations like ISIS and Al Qaeda. If we force people to own the evil that speaks in their name, we force them to accept that these beliefs come out of their community. In so doing, we risk shifting the window of acceptable discourse in the direction of hate-filled tribalism.
Instead, we should sincerely and emphatically disown the evil. When we allow people to sincerely reject those who would use their culture as a cover for evil, we allow them to control their window of acceptable discourse. We allow them to move in the direction that we want the world to go, the direction of loving acceptance.
When we refuse to give shelter to terrorists’ beliefs within the walls of our communities, we shift the discourse toward what we want to see in the world. We move towards showing the world that our communities are places of love and acceptance. In the aftermath of Christchurch, we can see that movement occurring across the globe.
After the Christchurch massacre, communities across the world came together to show solidarity and support to their Muslim members. In New Zealand, women of all religions, including Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, walked the streets in hijabs because Muslim women in their community said they were afraid to wear their hijabs in public. More than 20,000 people came out for a vigil in support of Friday services the week after the massacre.
In the small town of Flower Mound, Texas, where I worship, several hundred people came out for a vigil in support of our local Muslim community for their Friday prayers. The crowd filled the mosque’s shaded backyard.
Friday evening is the time we Jews say our prayers too. As the sun set, we pulled aside to hold a brief Shabbat evening service, carefully timed to be finished before the call to worship for the Mosque’s Friday evening prayers. They pulled their prayer rugs out into the courtyard to pray in our presence.
This was America at her best. Each of us prayed in our own way but together. Clergy of many different faiths spoke of love and community. Children played joyfully in the field behind us. Life felt strong.
Love is stronger than hate
I was very proud of how many people came from my synagogue. The community had come out for us in October, after Pittsburgh. We did not come out of a sense of reciprocal obligation, though. We came because we understood. We understood how terrifying it can be when your religious community is targeted by such hatred. And we understood how empowering the outpouring of love from your broader community can be. We wanted them to feel in the aftermath of this tragedy the way they had made us feel in the aftermath of Pittsburgh: loved, accepted, and safe.
That love poured out from representatives of every religion our town could muster: Jews, Baha’is, Hindus, Muslims, Christians of so many denominations that I lost track of who was who.
“I have to acknowledge that this shooter worships the same God as I meet in my sanctuary,” Pastor Whitney Waller-Cole, of Creekwood Christian Church, admitted. But her love negated his hate.
Growing in love
“Now is a moment for mutual embrace,” Pastor Jake Clawson, of Trinity Presbyterian Church, told us. “To go out of our way to know one another. To put faces on traditions of faith that are not our own. To grow in love for one another because of, and not in spite of, our differences.”
We in Flower Mound have worked deliberately to create a strong interfaith community that celebrates our differences. This community comes together not only to show our support in times of tragedy but also to celebrate in times joy and to learn from one another. Every year, this mosque invites the community in to share a break fast during Ramadan. We have shared Chanukah and Shabbat celebrations with them. And we come together every summer for a week-long interfaith camp, to learn from each other.
“Grace us with the courage to do more than simply decry evil,” Pastor Clawson prayed, “but to create a world of peace, a community of mutual concern, and hearts of love for one another.”
We reject the evil that claims to speak in our name, be it religiously or racially. We reject the attempts to divide us from our neighbors. We refuse to give shelter within our community to the beliefs of evil people. We bind ourselves to each other “as one tapestry of humanity, allowing our differences to give texture to our lives and our love for one another to give beauty to the world.”
 From Pastor Clawson’s prayer at the vigil.