This past week, a disturbed individual shot three people in Overland Park, KS, part of the greater Kansas City metro area. The motivation is being declared a hate crime, which the FBI defines as "criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation". Certainly, the story of how Frazier Glenn Cross, Jr., aka F. Glenn Miller, Jr., arrived at the Jewish Community Center and began shooting persons at the Center and at another nearby facility meets this criteria.
By the end, three persons were dead. After Cross' arrest, media reports carried reports of his long-time ties to various hate related groups. Anti-Semitism was among the many issues fueling this man's violence.
From my time studying and living in the Kansas City area, I know the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City from my own visits for events. A tranquil place of welcome in the midst of urban sprawl, the Center's mission is "to enrich our diverse community by cultivating an inclusive environment built upon Jewish values, heritage and culture. We offer programs of excellence that enhance wellness, meaning and joy from generation to generation." The Center models an alternative to the hate-driven worldview of the shooter: a place where people are treated equitably and common good is shared without precondition or prejudice.
Such times as this remind of the choices we make about how we live. While the FBI points out that "hate itself is not a crime—and the FBI is mindful of protecting freedom of speech and other civil liberties", is hate-fueled speech really freeing or liberative for the speaker, let alone the individuals or groups being denigrated by such a speaker? It seems more likely that language that seeks to explain away or outright advocate the elimination of another is not speech that reflects the fullness and potential of what it means to be human.
We need more religious communities to embrace the call to be a place where "an inclusive environment" is cultivated. Our human family needs our efforts to promote "wellness, meaning and joy from generation to generation" rather than encouragement for (or passive response to) the same short-sighted acts and ill-willed speech repetitively inflicted on one another in the guise of purifying humanity on moral, political, or socio-economic grounds. The Jewish Community Center's decision to re-open shortly after the shootings demonstrates the Center's resolve to keep promoting such a world by building it up, even as the Center and its surrounding community grieve the tragic outcome of hate boiling over into violence.
I am reminded of the phrase "Tikkun olam", which in Hebrew means, "to repair the world".
For your reference:
The Jewish Center of Greater Kansas City: http://www.jcckc.org
The FBI's page discussing hate crimes and tracking statistics: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/civilrights/hate_crimes/overview