Leaders from the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) are offering their sympathy and lifting up in prayer those affected by deadly shootings at two Jewish communities in a suburb of Kansas City, Kan. Three people were killed by gunfire on Sunday, April 13, in Overland Park, Kan., including a grandfather and his 14-year-old grandson.
The Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, general minister and president of the UCC, and the Rev. Sharon E. Watkins, general minister and president of the Disciples of Christ, are condemning the act. They emphasize that during these holy seasons for both Christians and Jews, every human is a child of God and is undeserving of any harm carried out under religious pretense.
"We mourn with our Jewish brothers and sisters for this brutal assault on their community," Black and Watkins said in a joint statement. "We hold them in prayer. We stand in solidarity with them in this tragic, frightening moment, particularly coming at the holy seasons for both Christians and Jews.
"We are appalled at the killer’s callous disregard for precious human life and the hateful ideology that motivated him," the statement continues.
Authorities have charged a 73-year-old man, who is a former leader in the Ku Klux Klan, in the shootings. Two of the deceased, a grandfather and grandson, Dr. William Lewis Corporon and Reat Griffin Underwood, were shot at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City. The third victim, whose identity has not been released, was shot at Village Shalom senior living community. Overland Park police are investigating the crime as a hate crime and criminal act.
Black and Watkins called on Christian leaders to publicly decry any notion, even those from Christian traditions, which maligns people of Jewish faith and would threaten their safety.
"It is our prayer in this season of Passover and Easter that God will deliver us from the slavery of anti-Semitism and from hatreds of all kinds," Black and Watkins write, "that life may triumph over death and we all may know the glorious joy of freedom."
Here is the full statement from the UCC and Disciples of Christ leaders:
Our hearts break for the families and friends of the three people murdered at a Jewish community center and senior home in Overland Park on Sunday. We lift them in prayer. We mourn with our Jewish brothers and sisters for this brutal assault on their community. We hold them in prayer. We stand in solidarity with them in this tragic, frightening moment, particularly coming at the holy seasons for both Christians and Jews.
We are appalled at the killer’s callous disregard for precious human life and the hateful ideology that motivated him. We condemn the deep-seated anti-Semitism that has so long lain at the heart of Western culture.
We acknowledge, as well, the central role Christian tradition has played in promoting the mistrust and hatred of Jews. The ugly truth is that Christian Holy Week, the annual commemoration of the last week of Jesus’s earthly life, has often been the occasion for mob violence against Jewish communities, as priests and pastors preached sermons blaming all Jews throughout history for the death of Jesus. Roman authorities alone had the power to crucify. Pontius Pilate, who issued the execution order, was notorious for his brutality and his insensitivity to the religious and cultural sensibilities of the Jewish population he ruled. And he was particularly harsh during Passover, when Jews came to Jerusalem to commemorate God’s liberation of their ancestors from enslavement to a foreign imperial power. Pilate ordered the crucifixion of Jesus and other Jews at the time of Passover to terrorize and demoralize Jewish pilgrims and inhabitants of Jerusalem. It is a cruel irony, and one of the church’s deepest sins, that so many of our teachers and preachers have twisted history to blame the very people who were targeted by Pilate’s act of state terrorism.
As we journey through this week of reflection and repentance, we urge Christian leaders to actively and publicly renounce the destructive and false narrative that vilifies Jewish faith and all-too-often threatens the life and safety of our Jewish neighbors and friends.
The fact that all three of the victims in Overland Park were Christian, including the son and great grandson of a beloved Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) pastor, underlines both the indiscriminate irrationality of such acts of hatred and the deep connection between our Jewish and Christian communities. That which harms either of us, harms both of us.
It is our prayer in this season of Passover and Easter that God will deliver us from the slavery of anti-Semitism and from hatreds of all kinds, that life may triumph over death and we all may know the glorious joy of freedom.
The Rev. Geoffrey A. Black
General Minister and President, United Church of Christ
The Rev. Sharon E. Watkins
General Minister and President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)