Somehow California synagogue shooter John Earnest’s connection to a Presbyterian church had escaped me. In my horror and heartbreak, I had managed not to hear that Earnest professes to be an Orthodox Presbyterian – a more conservative, evangelical branch of our faith, but not obviously anti-Semitic.
Before he entered the Chabad congregation, he wrote a four thousand word manifesto that some believe indicates his Reformed theological influence. Duke Kwon, a (more evangelical) PCA pastor here in the District, describes some of his words as a “frighteningly clear articulation of Christian theology.”
It’s not lost on me that if Earnest were Muslim, Islamic scholars and religious leaders would be called upon to renounce his act of terrorism, regardless of whether they came from the same strain of Islam as the perpetrator. I’m disappointed that the Post does not call on a wider spectrum of Reformed theologians for opinions about the “theology” of the manifesto, but also recognize that it’s the responsibility of pastors and scholars, rather than journalists, to speak this word.
Words of scripture and faith have been misused in God’s name since before the commandment forbidding the act God’s name in vain. That commandment is not just about saying “God-d%&$!” It’s about ascribing things to God that run counter to God’s vision for the world – like shooting in a synagogue! That misuse means our theological history contains some pernicious anti-Semitism, in the same way it has been shaped by racism and misogyny.
But more significant than those theological sins, undergirding all our theology – and I hope all of what transpires here at Western – is the rule of love. The rule of love reminds us that whenever we talk about God, whatever interpret scriptures to mean, however we treat others or ourselves, love is the standard. Articulated by Augustine in the 4th century, the rule of love reflects the greatest commandment and reminds us of our ethical imperative to love one another. The rule of love is woven into our confessions and serves as a litmus test for what is good and right.
As Presbyterians and Christians, whether liberal, progressive, mainline, evangelical, or orthodox – no matter what stripe – we all share this rule of love in our theology and ethics. Given that his manifesto and acts in no way conform to love, Earnest’s fundamental abuse of theological words and terms should not be confused with theology itself. Even if it sounds Christian, any statement that espouses hate in the name of Christ is essentially contrary to the good news of God’s love, and is therefore not Christian. That some of the same words are together in the same order doesn’t mean they are Christian theology.
Western friends, I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. I simply invite you to keep spreading the word that love is our rule, now and always.
In the faith, hope and love that abide,