‘Where is our moral compass?’: YDS Dean speaks out on weekend shootings

May 16, 2022

Yale Divinity School Dean made the following statement today.


Over the weekend there were two more mass shootings. The first, in a grocery store in Buffalo, N.Y., left ten people dead and three others wounded. The second, in a church in Laguna Woods, Calif., left one person dead and five wounded (four critically). The first targeted African Americans and the second Taiwanese: the former was racially motivated while the motive for the latter appears to be political. We shake our heads in disbelief and mutter, “Again? When will it stop?” 

What can we do? Certainly, we need to pray for the victims, who were innocent people going about their lives, and their families, who must now live with empty chairs at the table and painful voids in their lives. Needless and senseless suffering is particularly hard to bear. 

But we can and must do more. The weekend’s shootings are not isolated cases. The Buffalo murders reflect a pattern that includes the violent rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, shootings at a Pittsburgh synagogue and an El Paso Walmart, in 2018 and 2019, respectively, and the mass murders at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019. While the perpetrators of all of these events are extremists, they are abetted by politicians and media people who espouse racist ideas like “replacement” theory. Those who promote these racial theories have blood on their hands and should be held accountable for promoting theories that undergird racist violence. While those who champion racist theories may be remote from the agents who take their theories to an extreme, they legitimate and motivate the extremists and are morally culpable.

It is past time for the manufacturers of assault weapons and the equipment that support them to be held accountable for the mass murders that these weapons make possible. These are military weapons that are intended to do one thing: kill a large number of human beings. How many times do we have to witness demonstrations of their capacity before we have legislation to stop the sale of military weapons to civilians? I do not know how the manufacturers of these weapons sleep at night or how the representatives in Congress who refuse to outlaw them live with themselves. There is no moral defense for supporting the sale of weapons that are designed for rapid killing.

There are ca. 400,000 congregations, 4,000 synagogues, and 3,000 mosques in the U.S. It is time for every minister, rabbi, imam, and other clergy member to challenge their congregants to weigh the morality of the individuals for whom they vote. As a Christian, I find it incomprehensible that anyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus can advocate racism and ignore the violence that it breeds. Racism by any name is morally wrong. Murder in any civilized society is morally wrong. Where is our moral compass? 

We should not be reduced to a state of fear: African Americans should not have to worry about going to a grocery store; Jews should not need to hire security services for their synagogues; and Muslims should not have to worry about their safety in a mosque. Yet this is our world. The heinous nature of the acts this past weekend should move us to become resolved to raise our voices and not to lower them until there are changes. 

May 16, 2022