John Earnest was an earnest anti-Semite. Before opening fire in the Chabad Synagogue near San Diego during a Passover service on April 28, he published a rambling online manifesto that praised Adolf Hitler and condemned Jews to hell. In addition, Earnest expressed hatred of Islam, posting invectives against Muslims and taking credit for setting fire to an Escondido mosque on March 24.
Earnest was also a member of an evangelical church, well-versed in the scriptures.
Many of the commenters following this May 1 Washington Post article blamed conservative Christianity for Earnest’s heinous act. They branded the church for being hateful, ignorant and racist. One person remarked, “Another guy that ‘believes’ god has told him something special, so he kills some people. When he needed medical help, he got a heaping load of Jesus.”
I don’t think the majority of evangelical Christians are overtly racist – certainly not murderous. Yet I will say this: my social media feed is never absent of churchgoers who make snide remarks and post inflammatory memes about non-Christian religions. And I’ve been in the mainline church long enough to know that preachers often spout platitudes from the pulpit without addressing the nitty-gritty of real life. I’ve heard people say a variation of this more than once: “We don’t need to hear about social issues. Just preach from the Bible.”
Yet do the scriptures not address these topics? In the Old Testament, God commanded the Jews to care for foreigners. The reason? “Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:19). Jesus himself offered living water to a hated Samaritan (Jn 4:10) and rebuked his disciples when they wanted to call down fire on a village that rejected them (Lk 9:51-56).
We who claim the name of Christ have a special mandate to love our enemies, break down dividing walls, and fulfill the Great Commission to go into all the world with the Gospel, even those whom we feel are undeserving (news flash: we are all undeserving of God’s grace). We need to take a good, hard look in the mirror and ask ourselves why our churches are still mostly segregated, how someone who goes to church can harbor twisted ideas for a lifetime, and what we need to do to root out hatred and prejudice.
I will not dump the full blame of this homicidal young man on the front door of the church. Other factors were surely involved. But neither can I excuse the church when it ignores the clear commands of Jesus to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30-31). And as the Lord indicated in a famous parable, our neighbor is whomever we meet who needs compassion and healing. That would be every human being on this planet.