Iliff President releases statement in wake of Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting

October 29, 2018
Statement by Tom Wolfe
President, Iliff School of Theology, Denver, Colorado

We join in grief and solidarity with the Jewish community in wake of the shootings at the Tree of Life Temple in Pittsburgh. We share the anxiety of those who have been threatened with a pipe-bomb. We look with a spirit of human dignity to those who are en route to the U.S. southern border. We join in the outrage of the murder of an African American man and woman by a white supremacist in Kentucky.
Just this past week, Iliff was a co-sponsor for the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado's annual Force for Good Awards. Because of recent events, I am moved to lift up the jointly shared sanctuary initiative of Park Hill United Methodist Church and Temple Micah. Their work brings clarity that leads to goodness. These two congregations of different faiths, respectful of each other, worship according to their own traditions under the same shared roof and together join their social justice commitments to provide sanctuary for a woman and her family. Their distinct yet interactive lives provide a stark contrast to this week's barrage of suspicious and presumptuous rhetoric about the people of the caravan, attempted pipe-bombings, the massacre of Jewish congregants, and murders at the hands of a member of a hate group. These events come in the context of a hateful rhetoric that we have not come to terms with.
History illustrates that words in the hands of those inclined to hate plant thoughts of fear and questions of legitimacy toward whole communities of people. But even worse, the thoughts inside of those words are often internalized by individuals of vulnerable communities. This insidious rhetoric leads to unjustified self-doubt or even self-hatred and solidifies the control of those whose agenda is to hate.
In this climate of extreme right and left, many are convinced that they will be ostracized and pay too high a price for reaching across the aisle. Thus there is limited will to create common space for conversation dedicated to finding each other in new ways and together naming the human cost of our reluctance. What a tragic and consequential bind in which we find ourselves. Where in it is the call for courage?
Late in his career, theologian Robert McAfee Brown came to my seminary to teach Systematic Theology. It was a time when the liberation theologians were coming into our consciousness. Professor Brown was committed to us learning these emerging voices by having them be in conversation with the traditional theologians of the day. He divided the class up into very diverse groups. Each group's assignment was to write a systematic theology that everyone in the group could sign. There was great struggle in our groups. Some groups asked him to dissolve their groups so that each could write their own for the grade. To each of these requests, his reply was a straight forward, "Get back to work." This was very formative. We learned relying solely the opportunity of picking and choosing an easier path, is to miss the deeper issue. For the deep reality is that the people we serve most often do not have the luxury of walking away from the struggle.
As we face our grief and outrage with Pittsburgh, at our mailboxes, at the border, and in Kentucky, we see beyond our reluctance and enact a healthy interruption that draws us closer to the goodness that that exposes the lies of the hateful words too often spoken.