from my alma mater

Office of the Chancellor | 900 Dayton Street, Yellow Springs, Ohio 45387 |         www.antioch.edu

October 31, 2018

Dear Antioch University Community,

Today, the congregants of the Tree of Life Synagogue continue to bury their dead. It’s yet another chapter in our national ignominy of mass shootings and death by AR-15 assault rifles in the hands of domestic terrorists. This time, it was the deadliest rampage on the Jewish community in the history of the United States. The assailant was motivated by hate and a desire to kill “as many Jews” as he could. A couple of days earlier, a gunman tried to enter a predominantly black church near Louisville, KY. Thwarted by locked doors, he went to a nearby Kroger and allegedly murdered the first two black people he could find. These terrorist attacks and mass shootings by self-identified neo-Nazis, white supremacists and white nationalists are on the rise. We are reminded of the white supremacist that entered the predominantly black Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina on the evening of June 17, 2015 and murdered nine African Americans during a prayer service “in the hope of igniting a race war.” We are left wondering, why? How did we get here? And, what can we do?

The early investigation into the synagogue shooting supports that the gunman’s motive was his opposition to the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society (HIAS), and its perceived role in relief efforts for immigrants. HIAS is now one of nine agencies that contract with the U.S. State Department to assist in the resettlement of refugees legally admitted into the United States. Yet, by working for social justice, the entire Jewish community had apparently become a target for the gunman. As an institution with its own long history and strong mission of social justice, Antioch University must stand together with HIAS in solidarity, speak up for our shared social values, and speak out against hate.

Founded in 1881 in Brooklyn, HIAS is one of the oldest charities in America. Its mission originally was to help Jews fleeing from persecution, as they have often been required to do throughout history. By 1975, its mission expanded to assist with the relocation of persecuted and dislocated refugees of any ethnicity. In its history, HIAS has helped more than 4.5 million people escape persecution. HIAS writes, we originally helped refugees “because they were Jewish”; now, we help refugees “because we are Jewish.” Its mission of social justice, to “protect the most vulnerable refugees, helping them build new lives and reuniting them with their families in safety and freedom,” is as compelling as the American story itself. Like Antioch University, they respect the dignity, diversity, uniqueness and beliefs of all people.

But, as a result of that humanitarian work, they were the target of many anti-Semitic rants by the alleged shooter in social media, including one, just hours before the massacre speculating that Jews and HIAS were behind the caravan of refugees fleeing the chaos in Honduras. His last post on Gab, the pro-hate-speech social media site, was, “HIAS likes to bring invaders that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics. I’m going in.” Certainly, he and other white nationalists, white supremacists and neo-Nazis have been incited, whipped up and emboldened by the recent political rhetoric dehumanizing and demonizing others based on their race, their religion, their ethnicity and the color of their skin. We have witnessed the stoking of fear, the demagoguery, the references to refugees as “animals,” “rapists,” “terrorists,” “murderers,” and “diseased invaders.” We have seen Jews blamed for the “invasion,” and now we have seen the consequences of that rhetoric. Words matter!

But, these fringe groups are also emboldened by what is not said, by what they do not hear. Instead of unambiguously denouncing the torch-bearing demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia, who chanted “Jews will not replace us,” and who mowed down counter protesters resulting in the death of Heather Heyer, we are told that “there were good people on both sides.” We did not hear that fascism, racism, and anti-Semitism have no place in America, that it will find no sanctuary in this administration, that acts of violence will be prosecuted to the full extent of federal and state law as hate crimes and acts of domestic terrorism.

Similarly, in the face of the recent three-day spree of pipe bombs being mailed to 12 individuals perceived to be political enemies of the President, including prominent Jews, two former Presidents and the President of CNN Broadcasting, we hear again that “the press is the enemy of the people.” We do not hear that the bomber is a domestic terrorist; we do not hear that his attempted assassination of two former U.S, Presidents will be met with the full fury of the federal government; we do not hear that the press is a cornerstone of our democracy protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution, and that the government will do all in its power to protect it.

When a journalist, living in the U.S. and working for the Washington Post, is lured from our shores to Turkey by Saudi operatives, and then ambushed, butchered and dismembered while still alive, we hear that “he is not a U.S. citizen, he was only a permanent resident of the U.S.” We hear that we have many lucrative contracts with Saudi Arabia that must be considered. We do not hear that the U.S. takes seriously its protection of permanent residents to our country, including Muslims that they enjoy the same Constitutional rights as citizens and have the full protection of our government against foreign powers. We do not hear that we take seriously our protection of the free press and that a brutal murder of a U.S. journalist is an attack on the United States that will be met with swift and meaningful sanctions.

The implicit message is that, if violent action is directed at journalists or the press, or other perceived enemies of the current administration, they deserve it. It is well established that as dehumanizing rhetoric increases from any government, the incidence of violence and hate crimes directed at those group increases. On the night of November 9, 1938, referred to now as “Kristallnacht” or “The Night of Broken Glass,” German civilians smashed the windows of Jewish shops, and dragged Jews from their homes into the streets. Estimates are that 91 Jews were murdered that night. It was the beginning of the Holocaust. The Nazi government took no responsibility, but clearly their rhetoric demonizing and dehumanizing Jews triggered the attack. While there has always been a small fringe of neo-Nazis and white nationalists in the United States, the self-described “alt-right” is growing. According to the 2016 American National Election Survey (ANES), those identifying with White nationalist ideology make up 6% of the white population, or about 11 million people.

And with that growth, has come an increase in hate crime. The Anti-Defamation League released its most recent annual report in February 2018, concluding that “the number of anti-Semitic incidents was nearly 60% higher in 2017 than in 2016, the largest single-year increase on record, and the second highest number of incidents since the ADL started tracking data in the 1970s.” Now we have the largest mass murder of Jews in American history. There is clearly a connection between political rhetoric and violence.

In Horace Mann’s oft quoted plea to “be ashamed to die until we have won some victory for humanity,” we are reminded that it is not enough to be good; we must do good. This is a call to individual action. As most of you already demonstrate in your lives, in your work, in your teaching, and in your scholarship, we must speak up, speak out, demonstrate, be heard, educate others, be engaged, debate public policy, stand up to hate, support candidates that support our values and VOTE like our democracy, our values, and our rights depend on it—because they do. It is who we are as Americans and as Antiochians.

As I watch the funerals of the victims and the grieving of the families of both the attack at the synagogue and the supermarket, I have both a deep sense of despair and a growing sense of hope. The NY Times reported yesterday that two Muslim organizations raised more than $130,000 to help victims and their families of the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue—Muslims helping Jews to build a stronger America. That’s the kind of America our founders envisioned, one in which people of all faiths, all races, all ethnicities, all genders and orientations, live peacefully together in service to each other for a better world.

By standing together, we,—not the domestic terrorists, not the neo-Nazis, not the white supremacists—will define America.

William R. Groves, JD
Chancellor, Antioch University
900 Dayton Street
Yellow Springs, OH 45387

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Today, Let’s Please Watch this Again

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A Borrowed Blog

The following is borrowed entirely from a recent blog written by my good friend and ministerial colleague, Joe Kay, Associate Minister of Nexus Church, a United Church of Christ, in Hamilton, Ohio:

Some self-described Christians are refusing to serve gay people.

The president’s spokeswoman was denied service by a restaurant owner with deeply held beliefs.

Our society is fraying. The refuse-to-serve mentality is spreading, leading us to a dark place.

As Gandhi taught, an eye for an eye and soon the whole world is blind.

We don’t have to continue down this road blindly. We can light another way. But if we want to be that light, we can’t reject, shun or demean anyone.

We must do what Jesus did. We must love, serve and respect everyone without exception.

Last weekend, a group from Nexus participated in Cincinnati’s Pride Parade. A man walked through the crowd carrying a sign that said “Jesus Is Coming.” He told us we were doomed.

We had to decide how to respond. Do we ignore him? Argue with him? We chose kindness. We smiled, said hello and offered him a bottle of water. He was free to turn it down, but he accepted it.

We didn’t attack his views but respectfully explained ours – Jesus is already here, calling us to love everyone. We then wished the man a blessed day as he went on his way.

Serving others doesn’t mean endorsing their beliefs; it’s about recognizing and respecting them as a child of God.

To refuse service is to deny the image of God within each of us.

Some self-described Christians argue that living their faith means shunning those who believe differently. They’re flat-out wrong. If love is your core value, then every act of kindness and service is an expression of faith, not a rejection of it.

There are many ways to advocate for our beliefs. Demeaning others isn’t one of them.

Shunning doesn’t help anyone grow or change. Only love can do that.

Refusing service doesn’t fulfill our faith. Only love can do that.

We don’t vanquish darkness by bringing more darkness into the world. Only love can do that.

That is the way, the truth and the light that can lead us to a better place.

Coming Soon

On this Memorial Day weekend, The Well of Dyersburg introduces its publishing arm, Resources for Diversity (www.resourcesfordiversity.com). Publications will soon be available for review and purchase. Some resources will also be accessible on the site as free downloads.

After Christmas

How fortunate for Mary, pregnant with Jesus, that she knew nothing about what her unborn child would grow up to endure: terrible temptation by the devil in the midst of great hunger, defection of close friends near the end of his life, ridicule, wrongful arrest, torture, and a death penalty monstrously enforced.

What a blessing of innocence, of not knowing, of simply enjoying whatever wonder and delight could be eked out of an uncomfortable ride to a barn on that first cold Christmas-card night with warmth from the animals, an attentive mate, and visitors bearing gifts.

But we know.

So it is not possible for us to simply shop ’til we drop— from the after-Thanksgiving-dinner starting bell to store-closing the night before Santa’s arrival— scoring presents for our loved ones. We are too aware of what happens after Christmas.

We cannot be too comfortable with the Hallmark version of the Savior’s birth because we are too mindful of the reason for Jesus. Yes, we know Jesus is the “reason for the season” but we understand more: the reason for Jesus was change.

Though many adored the sleeping babe, the powerful enjoyed the status quo. The babe born to save us all from being comfortable simply donating to Christmas baskets for the poor was in immediate danger.

Because his birth required the overturn of cultures of dominance in which increasing the wealth of the wealthiest is easier than securing living wages for workers, where healthcare— even for children of workers— is viewed as an arbitrary removable privilege.

While we exchange gifts and hug family members and share lovingly cooked food after we pray, holding hands around our tables, we don’t forget what the birth of Jesus means to us.

We know what is next. The justice work Jesus implores us to do. The organizing. The truth sharing. The voting. The turning upside down of the marketplace mentality that has found its way even into our places of worship. The sacrifices we are called to make. How we are to die to our human self-centeredness. How we are to break down walls not build them up.

We full well know that after a short while of cooing at the babe and grinning at each other as we sing carols, we know we are called to help carry the cross of the grown-up Jesus, the smelly bearded criminal encrusted with blood.

In Mark 13:9, Jesus is recorded as saying, “You must be careful. People will arrest you and take you to court and beat you in their synagogues. You will be forced to stand before kings and governors, to tell them about me. This will happen to you because you follow me. But before these things happen, the Good News must be told to all people.”

What is the Good News that will make some so angry they will want to arrest those bringing that news? Make no mistake, it isn’t the Good News of the Hereafter that will upset some people. No. That’s not why Jesus was crucified. It’s the Good News of a different kind of life for everyone equally in the Here and Now that many in power will receive as bad news. That will anger them.

It’s the Good News of healthcare for everyone, the right to marry as one wishes, equal wages for women and men and people of all races for the same work done, and of cooperation among nations of the world no longer based on military might. They are angry, but we do not stop.

We, followers of Christ, know what we are called to do. After Christmas.