One of the holiest weeks of the year was marred by violence, bigotry and the deadly toll of war.
For Christians, Palm Sunday kicked off the final days of Lent leading up to Easter. The Jewish holiday of Passover began Monday night, as many sat down to Seder meals to commemorate the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. And Thursday marked Vaisakhi, which celebrates the forming of the Khalsa Panth ― the community of committed Sikhs.
As millions of people gathered for prayer and celebration, a string of heinous and offensive events reminded them of life’s fragility.
The following by no means constitutes a complete list of all the lives impacted by violence and bigotry this second full week of April. But these five events bring into sharp focus the difficult task of being a person of faith in the world today.
Explosions killed dozens at Coptic Christian churches in Egypt.
The bombs went off at two Coptic Christian churches in Egypt, killing more than 40 people and injuring dozens of others. It was Palm Sunday, one of the holiest days in the Christian calendar. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi declared a three-month state of emergency in response.
Once again, Coptic Christians were in the news because they were being persecuted. Since the time of their split from the rest of the Christian community through the modern age, Coptic Christians have frequently been targeted with violence and aggression. It’s a sad reminder that in many parts of the world, one’s religion can be a liability.
A man fatally shot his wife and a child before killing himself.
On Monday, a Southern California man walked into an elementary school classroom and shot and killed his wife, who was a special education teacher. He also shot two students, killing one and injuring the other, before reportedly killing himself.
The gunman, Cedric Anderson, was later described as a husband and father who was active in his community, according to the Los Angeles Times. He was also a devout and vocal Christian, described as a pastor by at least one person. Najee Ali, a community activist who knew Anderson, told the Times that the shooter was a “deeply religious man.”
And yet he killed his estranged wife, Karen Elaine Smith. The shooting reminded Americans once again of the intimate horrors of domestic violence and how they play out in all too many deaths.
It also highlighted a double standard that exists in public commentary on Christians and members of non-Christian faiths. In the days following the shooting, commentators did not seek to blame all of Christianity or the Bible for the abuse of women ― a tolerance rarely shown when the perpetrators of deadly crimes are Muslim.
A U.S. drone strike killed 18 members of an allied Syrian force.
In ongoing efforts to wipe out the Islamic State, the U.S. mistakenly killed 18 members of allied Kurdish and Arab forces during an airstrike south of the Syrian city of Tabqa, the Pentagon said Thursday. The U.S.-led coalition forces had struck the position on Tuesday after another partner in the fight wrongly reported that the location was occupied by Islamic State militants.
“The target location was actually a forward Syrian Democratic Forces fighting position,” the Pentagon said. Those forces are attempting to encircle and ultimately capture the city of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s main base of operations in Syria.
The desire to advance one’s faith plays a role in this conflict, as in so many others down through the centuries in the Middle East. And people in all those wars have died needlessly and cruelly. The latest incident reminds us of what Pope Francis and many others have pointed out ― that war is madness. As the pontiff said at a military cemetery in 2014, “War is irrational. Its only plan is to bring destruction. It seeks to grow by destroying.”
The White House’s public voice invoked the language of Holocaust denial.
On the first full day of Passover, White House press secretary Sean Spicer resurrected common tropes of Holocaust denial when he falsely claimed that Adolf Hitler never used chemical weapons. During a press briefing on Tuesday, Spicer attempted to suggest that Syrian President Bashar Assad was worse than Hitler because the Nazi dictator “didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.”
The Nazis under Hitler’s leadership gassed millions of Jews in death camps.
Spicer later tried to walk back his remarks. “In no way was I trying to lessen the horrendous nature of the Holocaust,” he said. “I was trying to draw a distinction of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on population centers. Any attack on innocent people is reprehensible and inexcusable.” Still later he apologized.
But the irony of his comments coming on Passover was not lost on the public. Many argued that Spicer’s “mistake” wasn’t a one-off gaffe but rather an echo of what Vox writer Jacob Gardenswartz described as “the Trump administration’s flirtation with Holocaust denial.”
The U.S. dropped “the mother of all bombs” on Afghanistan.
The United States dropped its largest non-nuclear bomb for the first time in combat on Thursday, targeting Islamic State militants in Afghanistan. The strike was carried out “as part of ongoing efforts to defeat ISIS-K in Afghanistan in 2017,” according to a U.S. Central Command press release.
The military objective was to “get it over and done with and get the ISIS forces killed off,” said Barbara Starr, CNN’s Pentagon correspondent.
Many Christians pointed out that the attack was carried out on Holy or Maundy Thursday by a presidential administration filled with people who brandish their Christian identity to claim the moral high ground. War again trumped faith.