“Senseless” violence

6 08 2012

We had just an awful news story here yesterday – there was a domestic terrorism incident at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek WI, a suburb on the south side of Milwaukee.  I drive through it every time I go up to Milwaukee for rehearsal.  Romney is already calling the shooting a “senseless act of violence,” and while I understand what he’s trying to say, I want to remind him that this crap does not happen in a void.  It’s fostered by the othering of anyone who isn’t white and Christian – and that’s what really needs to be addressed.  

Even CNN came up with the gem that Sikhs can often be mistaken for Muslim or Taliban.  Shall we begin to unpack this?  How even if someone is Muslim, that doesn’t justify shooting them or opening fire in a place of worship?  And just what do the Taliban look like?  I’m reading an awful lot of “But Sikhs aren’t Muslims!” with the implication being that we can understand, a little bit, if someone guns down Muslims.  I understand that after the 9/11 attacks, when there were a lot of reprisals on Muslims, there were a number of Sikhs who made it clear they were NOT Muslim – and they were reprimanded by their temple leadership for making the distinction, because it made it seem like attacks on Muslims were justified.  I have to admire that brand of humanity and justice.  

There is, in fact, a great deal to admire about the Sikhs overall, and it is my own shame that I didn’t know more about this major world religion until this morning.  Their commitment to family, to living a productive life, to taking care of their families and their communities.  I know that lived religion doesn’t always measure up to the textbook descriptions of what the faith is actually supposed to mean (hello, Christianity!) but those tenets are a real good place to start.  It is both tragic and disgusting that what people see of Sikhs are the beards and turbans.  And for lots of people, beard + turban = Taliban, or at least Scary Foreign Person Who Probably Hates America. 

I am heartbroken about the whole thing and again, I feel myself being pushed farther and farther away from the Christian church, which has turned into a mighty weapon of othering.  For the longest time I wanted to believe that my religion was actually a force for good, that there were some bad people in it but overall it was a good thing.  It has become harder and harder for me to even set foot in a church any more.  Not when I should be hearing blistering rebukes for hate crimes from every pulpit in the country, and instead what I hear is “We mourn with the victims.”  Which is nice and everything.  But the victims don’t need my help mourning.  What they need are linked arms and people of conscience saying that this is ENOUGH.  What they need is no safe hiding place for those who hate them to the point of violence, murder, and terrorism.  

I still think of myself as a Christian.  The Jesus of the Bible was endlessly fascinating and a true revolutionary.  But I’m coming to believe that the church that bears his name cares only about that name, and not so much about what he taught.  I know that this is a source of real pain for my mother, who believes that everyone should have a church home – it’s important to her, and she can’t fathom that it isn’t important to everyone.  I just can’t do it any more.  I can’t take the bigotry and homophobia any more, the self-satisfied assurance that, because I’m doing well financially, that’s proof that God likes me best.  I can’t take the notion any more that Christians are God’s chosen people, living in God’s own country, and that the rest of the world is somehow expendable, particularly if they’re not white.  Or straight.  Or cis-gendered.  The Christian church has turned into Orwell’s Animal Farm, where all the animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.

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