A Lutheran Plea to End the Attack on Roman Catholic Churches
COMMENTARY: Starting with the unrest in many American cities in May of 2020, criminals have attacked more than 190 Catholic sites, mostly churches and even a few schools, and often committing multiple crimes.
The week before Holy Week, I sent a message to the parents of the 180 children that attend our parish preschool. In it, I told them I never imagined I would need to send an email like this. But, a few days after the shooting that occurred at The Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee, I felt compelled to reach out to them and let them know that our parish and school will soon reexamine all of our security protocols. Among other things, I told them I am heartbroken at this senseless loss of life and beyond frustrated that this type of violence continues to occur. Unfortunately, I continued, this is the sad reality of our time.
“This is the sad reality of our time.” Wow. Did I really write that? Indeed, I did, because it is true. And my concern is growing. Not just for my parish, but for all those who worship, study, serve and pray in religious spaces.
As the pastor of a Lutheran church and school, my focus every day is on the parishioners, students and parents who are part of our parish community. These are the families for whom I pray daily and whose spiritual lives have been entrusted to my care. In no uncertain terms, I am a Lutheran cleric who is steadfast in my faith, committed to the advancement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Lutheran Confessions.
But today, alongside my concern for those directly in my care, I add my most earnest prayers for my Catholic brothers and sisters across our country.
Starting with the unrest in many American cities in May of 2020, criminals have attacked more than 190 Catholic sites, mostly churches and even a few schools, and often committing multiple crimes. My colleagues at the Religious Freedom Institute documented these attacks in a report released in September 2022. These senseless acts have occurred in 39 states, plus the District of Columbia, and as of this writing, there is no indication that they are subsiding.
Vandals have burned, defaced or otherwise damaged churches and schools. They have also stolen and desecrated sacred items and property. Faithful parishioners, students, parents and employees of these institutions have come face-to-face with this wholly irrational destruction.
A few weeks ago, someone burglarized and vandalized Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Gales Ferry, Connecticut. According to one report, the suspect “broke into the church, smashing windows and attempting to break into rooms using a crowbar …” and “further vandalized the church by painting ‘hateful’ messages on the floor of the church meeting hall with black paint and more ‘hateful speech’ on a wall that displayed a large crucifix.” This scenario has become all too common in recent years.
Why are these agents of chaos and destruction targeting Catholic sites? Only two explanations seem plausible. First, some people believe that vandalizing and destroying the property of Catholic churches and schools will somehow intimidate, scare or even terrorize Catholics to stop them from faithfully teaching and living out the truths of their faith. Or, second, they are trying to punish the Catholic faithful for living out teachings that violate their own radical orthodoxies. Extremists so hate what Catholicism believes, teaches and confesses that they resort to barbarism, violently attacking places of Catholic devotion and education.
Have these Catholic parishes and schools done something to provoke such violence? Of course not, unless their mere existence in society is deemed, prima facie, to be an offense. They have simply done what faithful Catholics have done for two millennia — they have taught and witnessed to their faith in their parishes, schools and surrounding communities. They have done what I seek to do every day as a Lutheran — to teach and live out my faith.
What’s equally concerning to me is that many in our nation seem indifferent to or ignorant of such attacks. Some people view these crimes as so common and routine that they have become desensitized. Others are unaware, because national news outlets, elected officials and federal law enforcement agencies have mostly ignored the story altogether.
Even more astonishing is the refrain among some that these churches and schools “had it coming.” To this small, but growing, group of individuals, the truths of Christianity are so offensive and contrary to what they think should be permitted in our society that they somehow believe that acts of violence against these visible manifestations of Catholicism are justified.
This menacing, violent ideology should scare anyone who cares about freedom, and alarm all Christians, regardless of their denomination. Those who hold another religious faith or have no religion at all should be similarly alarmed, for an attack on any house of worship is an attack on all of them. If Catholic congregations can burn, so can Lutheran, Baptist, Pentecostal, Jewish and Muslim ones.
I wish it was enough to say that violence has no place in a democratic republic. It certainly has no place within Christendom or among those who confess its faith. But violence against Catholic churches and schools is indeed a problem in this nation. And I am obligated, both as an American and a Christian, to stand up and speak against it. I pray that my fellow Americans, regardless of their faith, will do the same.
Rev. Graham B. Glover is a chaplain fellow at the Religious Freedom Institute in Washington and senior pastor at Abiding Savior Lutheran Church and School in Gainesville, Florida.