Two days, two attacks on houses of worship.
Different religions. Different countries.
You've heard all about the first attack. But have you heard about the second one?
The first attack came on Sunday, when a suspected white supremacist murdered six Sikhs in Wisconsin as they gathered for worship. Few Americans really know much about the Sikh faith, and it's been assumed that Sunday's killer likely - and ignorantly - confused Sikhs with Muslims. Maybe that's what happens when you're burning with such ethnocentric hatred that you can't even study up on why different people make you want to kill them.
Hatred, Murder, and "Thou Shalt Not"
Maybe Sunday's gunman intentionally targeted suburban Milwaukee's Sikh community for some other reason than that they're Sikhs, and maybe the indications that he was a white supremacist are beside the point. But what isn't beside the point is that, once again, violence and bloodshed has desecrated a faith's worship space.
Generally speaking, despite my own dearly-held beliefs regarding orthodox Christianity, I don't get too worked up about the free exercise of religion. There's a mosque just down the street from where I live, but aside from the fact that they don't tend their landscaping, and they let their teenagers launch fireworks (despite being illegal within city limits) from their back parking lot, I consider myself quite tolerant. I actually feel sorry for them whenever I look at the fence they erected along the street. Punks from some Section 8 apartments across a nearby creek were robbing the mosque of its computers, forcing the mosque's leaders to start building a wrought-iron fence - until they realized the teenaged criminals would probably just climb over it. That back parking lot is surprisingly remote.
Indeed, if you're not slamming airplanes into skyscrapers, hurling ugly epithets at mourners attending the funerals of American soldiers, or having sex with adolescent girls and calling it salvific, then even though I believe faith in Christ is the only way to Heaven, I'm content to let you do your faith thing if you'll let me do mine. With the exception of the extremist Muslims - one of whom, for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, used to attend my neighborhood mosque - I'll even give the heretical Westboro Baptists their right to spew their vitriol, and I waited patiently while the fundamentalist Mormon sect led by the imprisoned Warren Jeffs had his day in court. I don't wish death on them in any form or fashion, even though I don't agree with them at all.
And for the most part, I think the vast majority of us Americans agree, at least with the live-and-let live ethos. Which is why not knowing much about Sikhs, and never really having them on our community radar, probably said as much good things about them as bad. As we've learned more about their religion this week, we're seeing that one reason we don't know much about them, aside from their small numbers in the United States, is that they live their faith in a relatively quiet, peaceful, and family-oriented fashion. Makes sense why they don't draw much attention to themselves. If it wasn't for the tightly-wound turbans of their menfolk, which some Americans apparently think makes them look like Muslims, they'd be even less conspicuous in our loud, rambunctious society.
Slaughter of Christians in Nigeria
But at the risk of minimizing this tragedy in suburban Milwaukee, allow me to bring to your attention the slaughter of 19 worshippers yesterday in a Christian church near Okene, Nigeria.
According to the BBC, a militant Islamic terror squad called Boko Haram may be responsible for the carnage at Deeper Life Bible Church in the town of Otite, near Kogi state.
Here's an account of the attack provided by the Associated Press:
Two gunmen sprayed the windowless sanctuary Monday night with fire from Kalashnikov assault rifles, said Lt. Col. Gabriel Olorunyomi, the head of a local joint army and police unit. Another armed man stayed back and switched off the generator providing lights in the church, leaving those inside unable to flee as the gunfire flashed through the darkness, witness Lawan Saliu said. Saliu spoke from a hospital bed Tuesday after sustaining a gunshot wound to his stomach.
Probably a similar scenario to what happened at the Sikh temple a day earlier, and half a world away. Only, even though 19 people died in the African tragedy, it's getting far less media coverage here in the United States.
One reason, obviously, is that Africa is, well, Africa. Comparatively speaking, suburban Milwaukee is just down the street for Americans. Another reason is that violence has been tearing Nigeria apart for several years now, as Muslim warriors fight to install Sharia law in the currently pluralistic nation. That battle isn't even clear-cut, since factions of what could be called "ethnic Christians" have also attacked Islamic interests from time to time in Nigeria.
Indeed, "tit for tat" never does anybody any good, particularly when it comes to religion.
Grace Greater Than Sin
Yes, it can feel very good to be vindictive, to retaliate, and to strike back. We know that Christ teaches us to "turn the other cheek," something that some modern Western Christian talkers have tried to parse into something less than what Christ meant. We Americans don't like to let other people have the last word. We're brought up to believe that sitting there and taking it makes us worthless wimps. Yet, if and when we're persecuted for the sake of righteousness, Whose battle is it, really?
I'm not saying the remaining congregants at Deeper Life Bible Church are going to lash out and take revenge for the carnage in their sanctuary. Nor am I saying that the Sikhs score redemption points with God since they've publicly disavowed any impulse to seek payback for their tragedy. I'm not even saying that my own tolerance of the mosque down the street is any shining example of Christian charity. Frankly, when they first built it, everybody in our neighborhood was angry at them, and I suspect that my own current stance owes only a small portion to the result of time mellowing my emotions.
The vast bulk of my acceptance of Muslims in my own community has been due to the extent to which I've let God work His grace in my heart.
Maybe you've just rolled your eyes at my last sentence. Maybe all this religious nonsense simply affirms to you the stupidity of faith-based action. Yet isn't the common thread here not just our human connection with the divine, but mankind's own corruption of that connection? It's no secret that human history is scared and pockmarked with religious strife. Even the supposedly open-minded atheists who claim their refutation of the divine frees them from the stranglehold of irrational faith inevitably find their faith in what they don't believe becomes just as strong and compelling as the faith motivating the rest of us.
Maybe you're one of those people who claim that religion is the cause of all of our world's woes. Well, religion, and guns. After all, you say, look at these two shootings, at two religious facilities, against two religions. You say it like the correlation is obvious. I, on the other hand, believe that sin is the cause of all of our world's woes. A sin only God's grace can overcome.
Yes, both Wisconsin's Sikhs and Nigeria's Christians will turn to their faith for consolation as they work through the horror they've experienced and bury their dead. Which faith will help them cope best?
I believe it'd be the faith that believes our sin has already been paid for. Through grace.
But you're free to think what you like.
PS - If Elton John's new book, Love is the Cure, is being advertised below, please understand that I cannot control all of the advertising Google puts on my blog.