“THOUGHTS & PRAYERS” FROM THE ASSEMBLY OF BISHOPS

Video from USA TODAY
The slain Telemachus Orfanos was an Orthodox Christian. May his memory be eternal.

Several times a month we check the website of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America for signs of life. We hope especially for a united voice of pastoral engagement on the part of our hierarchs with the deeply troubled sociopolitical moment in which we live. Usually we find nothing.

Imagine our delight this time to discover two statements posted just over a week apart: the first, on October 31, in response to the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh; and the second, on November 8, in response to the Borderline Bar & Grill massacre in Thousand Oaks CA. The October 31 statement quotes the Message of the 9th Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America of October 4:

Additionally, we denounce all violence, whether caused by senseless acts related to weapons and shootings or instigated by abhorrent acts of discrimination and prejudice. Orthodox Christians are called to demonstrate their solidarity with and hospitality to all people, irrespective of race and religion, to welcome and embrace the image of God in the least of our brothers and sisters, as instructed in the parable of our Lord (c.f. Matt. 25:40-45). Our God is a God of love and forgiveness, of reconciliation and fellowship.

These signal a good start, for which we express our gratitude to the bishops of the Assembly. At the same time, we feel that they don’t go far enough.

Were it not for the word synagogue in the first statement, we would have no way of knowing that this particular mass murder targeted Jews for being Jewish. The Assembly’s statement reads:

Indeed the heinous and murderous act of terror on October 27, 2018, sprang from a place of deep prejudice against people and religion. We unequivocally condemn this rampage as a sin against the local community, religion, and humanity.

Yet this was no generic attack on “people and religion,” but on Jews and Judaism, another instance of the alarming rise of anti-Semitic violence in this age of fascistic demagoguery spreading like a cancer through American society and around the planet.

Two years ago we saw a similar failure to name the crime and the victims unambiguously. In Metropolitan Tikhon’s Archpastoral Letter and Public Statement on the Orlando Shootings, posted on the website of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) on June 13, 2016, not only did His Beatitude neglect to name the victims as LGBTQ and the crime as an act of homophobic violence, he explicitly instructed his Orthodox flock that “our hearts and minds should not dwell on the motivations of the shooting.” 

These kinds of omissions, whether by oversight or design, dishonour the specific victims of specific hate crimes—crimes which, in the US, target African-Americans, Jews, and LGBTQ people disproportionately. (See the chart entitled “Hate Crimes in the US [2008–2012] by Population Group” here.)

All of the above episcopal statements have this in common: their failure to address head-on the epidemic of gun violence in American society,  the iron grip of the National Rifle Association on America’s political class, and the need for concrete legislative solutions. (According to this and other reports, the NRA has gone so far as to tell the American College of Physicians to stay out of the gun control debate.)

In March (as we reported here with joyful anticipation), the newly enthroned Metropolitan Nathanael of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago admitted that the Church in America has failed especially our young people with respect to gun violence:

It is not enough for us to issue invitations and passively wait for them to arrive at our doorsteps, it is our responsibility to go to them, yes even if it means joining them in the streets

As we noted in Where Were You on March 24?, the new Metropolitan seems to have been the only bishop in America who cared about what was going on that day.  

Beloved Metropolitans, Archbishops, and Bishops of America:

The Brother of God and first Bishop of Jerusalem teaches us that “thoughts and prayers” are not enough (Jas 2:15-16). Ask those who have lost their daughters and sons, their brothers and sisters, their spouses and partners, their mothers and fathers, their dearest friends and colleagues, in oceans of their own blood around the nation—in churches and synagogues and mosques, in shopping malls and movie theatres, in bars and restaurants and dance clubs, on the streets and sidewalks…even in elementary schools: They don’t want your thoughts and prayers.

They want action. They want the nation’s faith communities to raise their prophetic voices in an unrelenting outcry at the gates of worldly power.

You are our shepherds. Lead the way.