First they came for the rabbis

Why the Poway Passover shooter targeted a synagogue

By
May 20, 2019 21:44
A CANDLELIGHT VIGIL is held last month at Rancho Bernardo Community Presbyterian Church for victims

A CANDLELIGHT VIGIL is held last month at Rancho Bernardo Community Presbyterian Church for victims of the attack at the Chabad synagogue in Poway, California. . (photo credit: JOHN GASTALDO/REUTERS)

 
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Before John Earnest left his home to murder Jews at the Chabad of Poway Synagogue in San Diego, he posted his manifesto online. Earnest’s 4,000-word treatise bolsters his claim of sincere Christian faith and draws from a myriad of biblical references providing evidence he retains a significant theological framework (though tragically misguided). 


The manifesto reads like an anti-Judaic religious proclamation from the Middle Ages.
Earnest accuses the Jews of greedily controlling global wealth, the media, and the pornography industry. 


He blames them for starting wars, initiating the slave trade, and causing genocide the world over.  He declares that Jews manipulate “usury and banks to enslave nations in debt and control all finances for funding evil.” 


With a conspiratorial belief that Jews are bent on such evil planetary domination, why did Earnest target a synagogue? Why did he shoot a rabbi along with 60-year-old Lori Gilbert-Kaye, who lovingly carried out mitzvot (“good deeds”) in her community and courageously stood between Earnest’s assault rifle and her wounded rabbi, Yisroel Goldstein, losing her life as a result? Why did Earnest shoot an eight-year-old Jewish girl, Noya Dahan, and a 34-year-old visitor from Israel, Almog Peretz?  


The troubling answer – one that should give us all pause – is that John Earnest attacked a synagogue out of a deep religious conviction. He blamed Jews for persecuting “Christians of old... and Christians of modern day... Palestine.” 


He blamed Jews “for their role in the murder of... Christ.” He also proclaimed that Jews both young and old had contributed to the oppression of Christians and therefore, “deserve nothing but hell.” He then declared, “I will send them there.” 


Earnest vehemently called for the total annihilation of the Jewish people. “To the Jew. Your crimes – innumerable,” he wrote. “Your deeds – unacceptable. Your lies – everywhere. The European man will rise and strike your squalid and parasitic race into the dust. And this time there will be nowhere for you to hide.” He saw himself as a soldier defending Christianity against Judaism.


The fact that Earnest drew from historic religious anti-Judaism with such precision and forethought is frightening. The fact that he was nurtured in an Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and by all accounts was faithful with his family in attendance – his father served as an elder – raises the question of how he concluded that killing Jews was an act of righteousness. 


These words from the 17th-century thinker, Blaise Pascal, offer an explanation of how someone who calls himself a Christian can act with such hatred: “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction.” 


The roots of religious anti-Judaism run deep. The early Church fathers passionately distanced themselves from the Jewish roots of the Christian faith. 


Seething with jealousy, many of these leaders proclaimed the un-biblical notion that the God of Israel had rejected the Jewish people and transferred His promises to Christians. This belief became known as Replacement Theology, in which the Church had replaced Israel. Tragically, Replacement Theology is steadily influencing American Evangelicals even today.


Earnest’s church holds to this anti-Judaic position. If you place the statements of the more viciously antisemitic Church fathers alongside Earnest’s manifesto, you will be hard-pressed to decide which is more hostile. 


John Chrysostom, a fifth-century archbishop of Constantinople, declared: “The synagogues of the Jews are the homes of idolatry and devils... They are worse even than heathen circuses... I hate the Jews.”  


Peter the Venerable, an 11th-century Benedictine Abbott, proclaimed: “Truly I doubt whether a Jew can be really human.”
There are countless other examples of similar hatred toward the Jews from leaders of the Church.


MARTIN LUTHER, the most influential leader of the Protestant Reformation, had this to say in his 1543 treatise, The Jews and Their Lies: “First, their synagogues should be set on fire... Secondly, their homes should likewise be broken down and destroyed... Thirdly, they should be deprived of their prayer books and Talmuds in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught... Fourthly, their rabbis must be forbidden under threat of death to teach anymore.” Not surprisingly, Earnest mentioned Martin Luther in his manifesto as one of his inspirational mentors.


As Replacement Theology fomented from pulpits in Christian Europe, attacks on synagogues and the burning of Torah scrolls became commonplace. The idea was that if the wisdom of the rabbis could be destroyed, Christianity would ultimately replace Judaism.


The Nazis’ main objective on Kristallnacht – “the Night of Broken Glass,” November 9, 1938 – was to destroy Judaism. Tyrannical bands of Nazi rioters broke through the doors of synagogues across Germany, Austria and the Sudetenland, carried out Torah scrolls and Jewish books, and burned them in the streets. When the night was over, 267 synagogues had been burned to the ground. Replacement Theology had stirred Germans into a violent frenzy.


In his manifesto, Earnest called on others to mix Christian piety (false piety, of course) with a genocidal ideology: “To my brothers in Christ... be strong. Although the Jew who is inspired by demons and Satan will attempt to corrupt your soul with the sin and perversion he spews, remember that you are secure in Christ... I only wish I killed more. I am honored to be the one to send these vile anti-humans into the pit of fire – where they shall remain for eternity.”


Earnest’s Jew-hatred was rooted in jealousy. The religious antisemite is jealous over the chosenness of the Jewish people. If he can delegitimize and dehumanize the Jews, he can claim their chosenness as his own, thereby replacing them. He is filled with contempt because Jews have a historical identity and he, being void of one, can only derive an identity through hating Jews. The Catholic Bishop Edward Flannery, an outspoken opponent of antisemitism, rightly said: “It was Judaism that brought the concept of a God-given universal moral law into the world. The Jews carry the burden of God in history, and for this have never been forgiven.”  


Throughout history, the attacks on synagogues, the burning of Torah scrolls and books of Jewish wisdom, and the attempts to erase not only Judaism from the world but Jews as well, have been aggressions against the God of the Jews for choosing them in the first place. This is why Jews speak of those who die at the hands of antisemites as having died al kiddush Hashem – sanctifying God’s name. After centuries of pogroms, relentless persecution and genocidal offensives, the Jewish people remain. They remain because they have a rendezvous with destiny – a destiny given to them by the One who identifies Himself as the God of Israel.  


John Earnest wasn’t the first fallen Christian inspired to violence by the conviction that the church has replaced Israel – but, God willing, he will be the last. His words and actions act as a canary in a coal mine warning us that anti-Jewish toxic fumes are spreading in Christianity once again. It is time for many Christian leaders to rethink their arrogant commitment to Replacement Theology and honor Jewish destiny rather than jealously attempt to replace it with their own, because this age-old heresy has always led to Jewish bloodshed.

The writer is president of Israel Team Advocates International, an organization that advocates for Israel and the Jewish people on American Evangelical college campuses (Israelteam.org).

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