I, like most people, was deeply troubled by news of another mass shooting, this time at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, just outside of Milwaukee. This, on the heels of the tragic massacre in Aurora, Colorado, seemed all the more savage to me, given that it took place in a house of worship.
Maybe it’s just because my wife and I work in a church and are aware of such vulnerabilities every day, but my first reaction is defensiveness. I want to raise my guard, double check the locks and do whatever I can to ensure our safety. It’s the response that makes the most sense, after all.
Or is it?
As pained as I was by the violence, I was equally heartened and positively struck by the response of those at the temple. Below is an excerpt from the transcript of a piece that ran on National Public Radio about the aftermath. NPR reporter Erin Toner speaks with Kanwardeep Kaleka, a worshipper at the temple and grandson of the slain temple president, Satwant Singh Kaleka, as well as Dr. Kulwant Singh Dhaliwal, a temple trustee.
KALEKA: We rarely even lock our doors at the temple. We leave it open to the community pretty much all day, all night. And for someone to come in and do this, it just, you know, do we change the policy of it? I mean, this is a fundamental principle of our faith, is to allow people of all kinds, no matter who they are, into god’s home.
TONER: Dr. Kulwant Singh Dhaliwal is a trustee at the temple, who’s also related to the president who was killed. Dhaliwal says the congregation remains in a state of shock.
DR. KULWANT SINGH DHALIWAL : Gradually, we have to take care of the bodies, according to Sikh rites, and then gradually counseling, helping family members, each other, we’ll try to sort of cope with it.
TONER: Kulwant’s wife is Dr. Amrit Dhaliwal, who was on her way to the temple when the shooting occurred around 10:30 in the morning. She says, thankfully, most members of the congregation had not yet arrived. And she says she’s still grappling with the fact that someone would target a religion that preaches peace and tolerance.
DR. AMRIT DHALIWAL: We believe that God is – all human beings are equal in this universe. So, I don’t know why this thing happened here.
TONER: Members of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin say they can’t imagine installing metal detectors or checking for guns before people walk through the door.
Their response reminded me of the Amish community’s reaction after a similar slaying at an Amish school in Lancaster County. The following is from a CBS story after the killing of several children in the school:
In just about any other community, a deadly school shooting would have brought demands from civic leaders for tighter gun laws and better security, and the victims’ loved ones would have lashed out at the gunman’s family or threatened to sue.
But that’s not the Amish way.
As they struggle with the slayings of five of their children in a one-room schoolhouse, the Amish in this Lancaster County village are turning the other cheek, urging forgiveness of the killer and quietly accepting what comes their way as God’s will.
“They know their children are going to heaven. They know their children are innocent … and they know that they will join them in death,” said Gertrude Huntington, a Michigan researcher and expert on children in Amish society.
“The hurt is very great,” Huntington said. “But they don’t balance the hurt with hate.”
Both are remarkably abnormal responses to being so brutally attacked, particularly by the world’s common standards. Justice is about the perpetrator getting what they deserve and about ensuring such atrocities don’t happen again.
But no amount of retribution would bring their loved ones back. And no heightened level of security ever could ensure with total certainty that they would be safe in the future.
No one would fault them for wanting vengeance or for defending themselves, but in taking the approaches both have to the violence, both communities have demonstrated a strength and faith that far exceeds that of any security system or jail cell. At its heart, both the Sikh and Amish message is that of the indomitable human spirit, guided and inspired by faiths that practices peace, particularly when it is met with quite the opposite.
I doubt I will remember the names of the killers in either incident in coming years, but I’d like to think that I’ll never let go of the feelings of hope and courage that I gain from the witness of these two remarkable communities of faith.
God, be with them.