'They are us': How people of faith are responding to New Zealand massacre

'They are us': How people of faith are responding to New Zealand massacre
© Getty Images

Responding to the horrific massacre at Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said many of the victims may have been migrants and refugees. “They are us,” she said.

As leaders of Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities in the United States, we write with the same conviction: They are us. While the prime minister spoke of her shared nationality with the victims, our commitment to stand in solidarity is derived from each of our faith’s commitments to human dignity. “They are us” is the idea that we no longer should look to anyone else as “they,” but rather, look to all as “us.”


We grieve the loss of 50 people and pray for their families and loved ones who will struggle with this loss long after the world’s attention moves on. We grieve the greater anxiety felt by Muslims worldwide entering their houses of prayer and concerned for their safety.

And yet in the midst of despair, we still hope. We are encouraged by the outpouring of donations from around the world to support the victims memorial fund. We see Jews, Christians and people of other faiths and moral commitments showing up at mosques across the country to show support for their Muslim neighbors. We grieve together — and in our collective grief, we form stronger bonds across our religious traditions.

Out of our grief and prayer, we must act. We are inspired by the clear, quick and unequivocal move by the New Zealand government to ban assault weapons. Even those of us who are inspired by “thoughts and prayers” know that they are not enough.

We must act collectively to ensure the safety of those impacted by anti-Muslim violence across the globe and here in the United States. The three of us work together through the Shoulder to Shoulder Campaign to directly engage faith leaders in the United States to be strategic partners in countering discrimination and violence against Muslims. We take a firm stand against Islamophobia, xenophobia and white supremacy fueled by racism and hate.

We recommit to shaping a world of respect and tolerance, of safety and peace for all of God’s children. No exceptions.

Every house of worship should be a safe place of worship, theological reflection, hope and healing. When one faith community is attacked, we are all attacked.

As the Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” Our Christian, Jewish and Muslim traditions call each of us to strive for a greater understanding, relationship and cooperation that will lead to justice, peace and life abundant, which God intends for us all.

Too often we have been sickened that sacred places of worship have become sites of mass violence. This tragedy occurred on Friday afternoon when the mosque was filled for Friday prayers, just as the Pittsburgh killer attacked Jews at their synagogue, the Oak Creek killer targeted a Sikh Gurdwara, and the Charleston killer attacked a historic black church.

None of us can truly worship God freely until we all can worship God freely.

In the face of this kind of political violence, many people are wondering what they can do. We need diverse faith communities to come together and support each other, and to develop plans for action. We pray and hope to model for others how this tragedy can lead us to unite and partner in creative ways. By showing up together consistently and confidently, we counter this hate and bring to life a better world together.

The victims of the New Zealand tragedy are us. We pray you will join us in honoring their memory by coming together for the common good.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs is the president of the Union for Reform Judaism. Tayyab Yunus is the executive director of the Islamic Society of North America. The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton is the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.