Religions Unite in Face of New Zealand Massacre

|| Graphics by Bernadette Berdychowski

|| Graphics by Bernadette Berdychowski

The opinions reflected in this OpEd are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of staff, faculty and students of The King's College.


In our modern world, we are hardly surprised to read the headline: “White-Supremacist Attacks Local Congregation”. In 2018, it was a synagogue in Pittsburgh; in 2019, two Mosques in New Zealand. The world waits during the weeks following an attack to see how leaders—both local and national, political and religious—will deal with the attack against the local congregation. How have they responded to this most recent attack?

Merely one week after the shooting, New Zealand Prime minister Jacinda Ardern set out a plan to ban all assault weapons by April of 2019, according to German Lopez in a “Vox” article covering the Mosque shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand. The political implications are quite obvious, as the Vox article points out: the NRA’s sway over the gun-control policy debate is almost strictly an American phenomenon.

Perhaps we (Americans) should reconsider our arguments since it is not universally accepted that banning military grade assault rifles is inherently corrupt and evil. But let’s leave the responsibility of sorting out political implications to other commentators, focusing our attention instead on the religious implications, which might not be so obvious.

The reactions of politicians have already sparked international debate around the issue of gun control policy. But how have Religious Leaders responded to the attack? And what are the religious implications of this attack?

First, religious leaders across New Zealand have united to support the Muslim community in Christchurch. According to the New Zealand Christian Network, churches across the country are holding vigils to memorialize the victims.

Second, around the world, religious leaders of all faiths have gathered in response to the violence and terror toward the Muslim community in Christchurch. In the U.K., religious leaders from varying faiths met together in Bristol City Hall to condemn extremism and violence.

During the meeting, Peter Brill, a Trustee of Salaam Shalom, recalled that it was merely five months ago when the Muslims in Bristol’s community stood side by side with the Jewish community as they mourned the attack on the Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Now the Jewish people of Bristol stand at the side of the Muslim community as faithful allies praying for the entire Muslim community, especially those whose dear ones were in the Christchurch attack.

As the religious leaders in Bristol demonstrate, attacks like this spark interfaith dialogue. And Bristol is not unique. Our differences do a lot to separate us, but our enemies do far more to bind us together.

In following the lead of these religious leaders, we too must purge our hearts. Religious communities must refrain from responding to hostility with hostility, to persecution with resentment—instead responding to persecution with patience and prayer. Hatred and xenophobia in all its forms, even benign, must be expelled from religious communities.

The idea that those outside our community are dangerous to our beliefs and way of life is almost culturally universal; from the most remote corners of the earth to the great cosmopolitan cities, people are subtly arming themselves for war against the “others”. Terrorism is hardly more than the outward expression or actualization of this inner fear. Let us not foster the same terrorist ideology in our own hearts.

Of course, we would be remiss to forget that among the greatest religious implications of this shooting is how it affects the Muslim community: 50 people were killed and their friends and families must now worship God in their absence. Moreover, an attack on Muslims in New Zealand is a threat to Muslims everywhere.

Finally, there is the tragic possibility that generations of people will interpret this event not as a reason to confess their own xenophobic tendencies to a merciful God, but as a reason to deny that God altogether.

As religious communities, let us pray this is not so.