As I learn more about the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27, the more it hits me close to home. This shooting was an unthinkable act of violence toward another of our religious communities.
Obviously, my heart, thoughts and prayers are with our brothers and sisters at the Tree of Life Synagogue, but after this event, I also find my heart filled with fear and anger. In times like this, Paul’s words from Ephesians 4:26-29 echo in my heart.
“Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. “
When I began this letter, the only thing I could think of doing with the anger in my heart was to vote and voice my outrage through the political channels of this great nation. By the time you read this, the midterm elections will have come and gone. I am writing this because I feel our responsibility as citizens of this country does not end with going to the polls.
There is still a lot of work to be done if we truly wish to pull this nation from the pit we’ve fallen into. There is a violence that has made its way into our society; an intolerance and bile that is giving silent permission for people like this Pittsburgh shooter to act.
We have had too much of this type of violence; once was far too much. In times like this I am glad I live in Vermont, but even here we are not immune to these issues.
Vermont is a special state for me. I am probably the only person in the world today who can say that I am a black man and small-town pastor who grew up here in Vermont. I feel this gives me a unique perspective on our state.
As a black man I can say it bothers me that we do not have more conversations about the systemic racism in the Vermont justice system, or the very open racism that forced Representative Kiah Morris to withdraw from her run for reelection in the state house.
It also bothers me that we still have language in our state constitution that affirms and endorses slavery. But as a Vermonter, I also say I take pride in our open-minded and cooperative little state; that here we work together to get things done. But there are still some very fundamental conversations that we are not having because they make us feel uncomfortable.
I feel that the violence we saw last month at the Tree of Life Synagogue is just another in a long list of uncomfortable problems we have put off for too long. Xenophobia and racism are problems we need to deal with; corruption in government, healthcare and housing, education and the environment are problems we need to deal with now.
In Romans 13, Paul tells us that the one thing we are obligated to share with one another is love. I feel that here in Vermont we do this every day. I hope that, going forward, our state will be a living example of America done right. Despite last week’s shooting, I still have hope for this country.
Pastor Devon Thomas serves the United Church of Bakersfield and Fairfield, the Waterville Union Church and the Second Congregational Church of Jeffersonville UCC.