By the Rev. Vicki Zust
Like many people, I spent a good part of Saturday watching in horror the coverage of the shooting in El Paso. Unlike many other people, I was also thinking about how I might respond to the shooting in my sermon. When I got up on Sunday and heard about the shooting in Dayton, I knew that something had to be said.
While it is not yet clear what the motive behind the Dayton shooting might have been, it is clear that the shooter in El Paso is a white Christian nationalist who sought to use violence and terror to further his agenda. The same is true of the shooter at the garlic festival in California.
The FBI director testified before Congress just over a week ago that in 2019 the most arrests for plotting domestic terrorism were of white nationalists. He didn’t say white Christian nationalists, but I don’t think there are any white nationalist groups that don’t use Christian scriptures and Christian language as a motivation for their hatred and evil.
After 9/11 we, as a nation, demanded that Muslim clerics publicly denounce Islamic extremism. People continue to ask why Muslim clerics and ordinary Muslims aren’t denouncing terrorists and terrorism. This in spite of the fact that the vast majority of Muslims throughout the world don’t recognize the Islam of the extremists.
As Christians, we need to do exactly the same thing. We need to say, clearly, simply, publicly and as often as we can that white supremacy and white nationalism have nothing to do with the teachings of Jesus Christ. We need to say that white supremacy and white nationalism are evil, pure and simple and we need to denounce anyone, anywhere, at any time, who uses the teachings or the name of Christ to promote the idea that others are less than because of the color of their skin or the place of their birth.
In the whole of the Bible there are only two groups of people who get special treatment from God. The first are the people of Israel, who God chose as his own. The second are, what the Old Testament prophets refer to as “the widow, the orphan and the sojourner in your land.” In other words, those who are vulnerable and in need. Aside from these two groups who get what theologians call a preferential option from God, God loves everyone the same. God’s love is given to everyone.
That is the message that we, as Christians, and particular those of us who are ministers, pastors and priests, need to shout from the rooftops.
We need to proclaim that these white Christian nationalists are perverting the teachings of Christ, that they are abusing our faith, that they are wrong. It is especially incumbent on those of us who are white to join our voices in denouncing these groups and the individuals that make them up.
The Rev. Vicki Zust is the rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Clarence.