Our Sacred Spaces are Burning By Anjeanette LeBoeuf

AnjeanetteEvent Update: This post was largely written before the Saturday shooting at the Chabad Synagogue in Poway, California. I have added a few sentences at the end of this post in light of this new sacred space violence. 

When I started to write this FAR post, it was going to be focused on the three historic Black Churches in Louisiana that had burned to the ground due to arson. These churches and communities remained largely unknown with very little coverage. The post then developed to include the accidental burning of the infamous historic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France and the immediate global response. The Notre Dame response was immediate and massive; over 1 Billion dollars was promised for the future rebuild.  Yet for the most part the three Black churches remained in obscurity until social media critiques posted about how the global wealthy elite were so willing to drop money for building that already was in the stages of refurbishment. This post then shifted once again with the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka.

The devastating bombings that directly targeted Christians and Tourists has rocked the world. The current numbers are 350 dead and might continue to rise in the next few days. ISIS has claimed responsibility contrary to the rushed proclamation of Sri Lankan’s President Maithripala Sirisena that it was the small terrorist cell NTJ. The president also incorrectly stated that these bombings were a retaliation to the Mosque attacks in New Zealand last month. So where does that leave us with answers on why Sri Lanka? Why Easter Sunday?

sri lanka church.jpg

Easter Sunday Attacks are not new nor the only incidence within the last month. After the Sri Lanka bombings, Spanish police released a report that they foiled an attack which was planned for Easter Sunday in Seville. An armed woman went to a San Diego Church on Sunday, mere hours after news broke about the Sri Lanka bombings. A man tried to enter St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York doused in gasoline. And the three historic Black Churches in Louisiana; St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre on March 26, Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas on April 2 and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas on April 4. And that was just within the last month.

Black Church Response

In 2017, Egypt saw bombings that killed 45 Egyptian Coptic Christians on Easter. 2016 saw a suicide bombing on Easter Sunday in Lahore, Pakistan that killed 75 Muslims and Christians and injured 340. 2012 had a car bombing during Easter in Nigeria. I could continue with the amount of violence not just on Easter week but during other Religious holidays and festivals. Bombings, attacks, attempted violence.

While for many, Easter bombings seem to be a 21st Century product but the reality is that attacks during religious services have been methods to inflict pain and suffering. Part of the push for Irish Independence from the British, which is called the Easter Rising, took place during Easter Week in 1916. I could list many more instances of violence and religious holidays. The Sri Lanka bombings come while the globe is still dealing with the aftermath of the Christchurch Mosque shootings and the Synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh.

What is unique is the location of Sri Lanka. Both Muslim and Christian communities are minority populations in Sri Lanka. Muslims have a 3% advantage towards the Sri Lankan Christian communities. These continual attacks brought on by both sides are attempts to continue to sow contention and further split our allegiances. Stanly Johny writes in his article “Easter Sunday bombings: Why Sri Lanka?”

Their target is to spread terror anywhere in the world and trigger a cultural war between Islam and other faiths. This time it’s Sri Lanka, next time it could be any other country.

And sadly yes, more attacks will happen on religious holidays. And I am left pondering the connection with sacrality and violence. If violence is a way to which a person can achieve religious ‘brownie points’ or salvation, then it will always be a mainstay in our societies. It is in direct contention with concepts of peace, compassion, and love that most of the the globe’s religions hold onto.

We have been witnessed to the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the horrors of the Shoah, the Armenian Genocide the terrors of Indian/Pakistan Partition, the unrest and violence in Palestine and Israel, September 11th, the Syrian Refugee Crisis, the Rohingya Genocide, and the list, sadly, is extremely extensive. We are also the remedy. We can draw a new sacred line, one that does not have a connection between sacrality and violence.

Patheos, a website community of interfaith dialogue, spirituality discourse, and current news posted an article about the Sri Lanka Easter Bombings that I found extremely poignant.

As more information unfolds about these attacks, if we are going to address terror or peace, then all religions are on the table. It is neither Islamophobic, anti-Christian, nor anti-Buddhist to recognize when any segment of a religious institution acts as a source of oppression and terror.

We can no longer use these labels, personal biases, and politics to keep up us from dealing the realities impacting billions of lives.

In other words, we must face a problem to effectively remedy it.

No religious institution represents the sole source of global peace or violence. Because institutions consist of individuals, we have the power to join others in promoting inclusion of diverse beliefs in our world.

One thing is certain that I cannot say enough: The hate must stop.

If we don’t make a more collective push to eradicate hatred and violence, then more churches, temples, synagogues, and mosques will continue to burn. Our sacred spaces will be continual marked by sacred violence.

6 months to the day after 11 people were gunned down while attended services at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA, and merely a week after the Sri Lanka Easter bombings, a 19 year old man took a semi-automatic assault weapon and fired at the Chabad Congregation in Poway, CA that has killed one and left 3 others injured. This violence can no longer be regulated to our NEW NORMAL, this is not the legacy of our generations. I stand in solidarity with all communities that have experienced hate crimes, religious violence, bigotry, racism, and sexism. We need to demand changes from our politicians, change the conversations which breeds racism, sexism, and religious hatred. 

Anjeanette LeBoeuf is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Whittier College. She is the Queer Advocate for the Western Region of the American Academy of Religion. Anjeanette also writes for the activist blog, Engaged Gaze. Her focuses are divided between South Asian religions and religion and popular culture. She has become focused on exploring the representations of women in all forms of popular culture and how religion plays into them. She is an avid supporter of both soccer and hockey. She is also a television and movie buff which probably takes way too much of her time, but she enjoys every minute of it. Anjeanette has had a love affair with books from a very young age and always finds time in her demanding academic career to crack open a new book.


Categories: Violence

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20 replies

  1. I was so saddened to wake up to the news of another white supremacist shooting attack this morning.

    There are some sick and angry white males out there in our culture. Unfortunately we allow them to buy guns and they find a way to channel their sickness through white supremacist groups, in large part through the internet.

    What to do?

    Gun control for sure.

    Laws distinguishing between “free speech” and “hate speech”? Yes this is a slippery slope but we may have to try to find a balance so that free speech cannot be used to create hate.

    Throw the #### #### in the White House who is a white male supremacist out? Yes.

    And as you say, we also have to acknowledge, deconstruct, and reject the ways in which religious texts and traditions have promoted “my way or the highway” kinds of thinking and have supported the supremacy of one religion over another and the supremacy of males. Religions have a lot of good in them but they also have a lot of bad in them as well.

    And, we must examine the ways in which literature laws and economic theories have supported supremacies.

    But first and foremost we must outlaw machine guns and dismantle the gun culture. Can we do this, though when the gun lobby elects our politicians? What is wrong with America? Why aren’t we more like New Zealand? Do we even have a democracy any more?

    Liked by 2 people

    • First get rid of the escalating gun culture – how can it be that we continue to allow these atrocities to mount????? What is wrong with us as human beings?

      Recently I watched the excellent documentary “No Direction Home” – a film that locates Bob Dylan in historical time and highlights the sixties – and the beginnings of what has become a way of life – unspeakable violence – the difference being that at that time people were horrified by the killings – now we accept them as “reality”???? These days I shrink from interacting with the dominant culture because I feel CRAZY as well as HOPELESS.


    • Carol,

      I completely agree with you.

      Gun control, especially banning all forms of assault weapons is a huge start. It has been quite telling to see how problematic and disintegrated our democracy is in light of the shift action that Prime Minister Ardern and the New Zealand Government enacted after the Christchurch attacks.


  2. And what can we do about these angry unhappy guys? All of the shootings you discuss and so many others are horrible. But what about the fact that cops kill innocent people almost every day? Or the fact that males beat uncountable numbers of women up and kill many of them every day in almost every culture of the world?

    Liked by 1 person

    • If it were women who committed mass and individual shootings in (95?)% of the innumerable instances, how long would it take for public servants to conclude that women as a whole were not mentally stable enough to own guns, and create laws preventing or severely restricting *women’s* access to them?

      Perhaps, in acknowledgement of an individual’s “right to bear arms”, a woman would not be able to own or access a gun without a male co-signer and constant supervisor?

      In this current world though, how about everyone having to leave all their lethal weapons at licensed shooting ranges? Freedom to target practice + an “economic opportunity”.

      Oh and, if watching violent and perverse “entertainment programming” (*programming*) had no affect on behavior, why would manufacturers and vendors spend oceans of money to advertise their products therein?

      Liked by 3 people

    • As a woman I thank you Carol for remembering that women are killed every single day in almost every culture…


    • Carol,

      You bring up an important, vital, and pressing issue surrounding the persistent and escalating rise of violence towards woman domestically and globally.


      You also provide an interesting point about the narratives, discourses, and behaviors that society has deemed acceptable for men. I am reminded with the common statement that due to women menstruating, they were prone to hysteria, melancholy, and illogical thinking which restricted them from so many things. Yet the young man who set fire to the 3 Historical Black Churches has claimed that listening to excessive amount of “violent” music lyrics put him in a frenzy, hate-filled mind set. News keeps using rhetoric like “lone wolf” and “random” acts of hatred instead of claiming and naming what the reality is – toxic, violent masculinity/patriarchy.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. All I can think after reading this is how much our world has lost itself. Of course there ha been violence all throughout history, but to target people in places they are supposed to feel safe is a complete abomination. However, thank you for making me more aware of this issue. It had never really struck me fully how it can happen to anyone anywhere, and how it will be the minorities who will suffer.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Do we need to even consider a pluralistic approach where we work alongside each other but still offer that distinction in our own respective worship? Rather than becoming even more exclusivist we look to offer inclusivism? It strikes me that when we, as a church, state that we are exclusivist, we may be afraid of the other, not wishing to engage, even to be seen with the other. When all along, as Christians, we are told that we are to love one another: as it says in the Qu’ran as well.


  5. Kiana Rawji, a brilliant young woman, in a youtube TedTalk titled, “Islam Through Many Lenses….” explains that Islam (and by extension all religions) don’t “say” or “do” anything. Islam (and by extension all religions) are not able to speak or do. It is people who “speak out” a religion. I think Reza Aslan put in quite succinctly when he said that religions are neither violent, nor are they peaceful. Religions just are. If you are a violent person, then your religion will be violent. If you are a peaceful person, then your religion will be peaceful. My question is: Why are we so violent toward one another? My upbringing taught me that human nature is absolutely depraved. “There is no good in us.” The very fact that we don’t blow ourselves up to kingdom come is due to “God’s mercy and grace.” That ideology has not satisfied me for a long time. How do we go about bringing about peace, then? It doesn’t escape me that most of the violence done in the world is done by men, but that seems to be a simplistic analysis. Are not women often complicit in that violence?

    Liked by 3 people

    • Esther,

      Thank you for sharing the words of both Kiana Rawji and Reza Aslan. Religions are. They can be interpreted in multiple ways. I also think that there is a level of complacency that we need to place on the doorstep of religions that have designated a form of “sacred violence” I am reminded of the Hebrew BIble stories of the Levite’s Pilegesh, Jephthah’s Daughter, the Rape of Dinah and Tamar. This stories have been maintained, and sadly one of the results is that there has bred cultures which have consciously/unconsciously place acceptance and sacrality on violence on women. This has also bred concepts that the “other”, “minorities” “other religions” are also sources for which sacred violence can be performed.

      The Sri Lanka bombings had a few women ‘helping’ in that attacks, but all the other cases I mentioned in my post have been enacted by men.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Anjeanette, Since religions don’t speak or act, this “sacred violence” you mention is because there are violent people whose voices right now seem to be louder and more persistent than the voices of peaceful people. Violent sacred stories have become embedded in society/culture and maintained by people who benefit from them or are too afraid to speak out against “holy scripture.” (No doubt there are other reasons as well.) Sometimes women (and others who are not in the upper layers of society) are complicit in violent acts because they also benefit. I’m not just talking about being involved in blatant attacks. Could it not be said that since more than half of white women voted for a presidential candidate who disdains the “other,” they were complicit in the violence ensuing from his policies where children were separated from parents and put in cages? Just one of many examples. I certainly agree with you that maintaining sacred stories that violate women breed violence. Many biblical stories champion violence towards men as well–Jesus’ crucifixion, the “almost” sacrifice of Isaac–to mention a couple. And then there’s all that violence towards animals…..

        Liked by 2 people

    • Esther, I think Aslan makes a good point. We are the ones who interpret our religious traditions and decide which parts to value and which to discard or ignore. However, I think he goes too far if he is saying that “the religion” is a blank slate we project onto. In Goddess and God in the World Judith Plaskow and I agreed that we interpret our traditions. However we also agreed that there are texts of terror in all of the patriarchal traditions and that the responsible thing to do is to name them as such. It also seems that Aslan may be ignoring the fact that religions are not only shaped by people, they also shape people and if there are texts that can be reasonably read to promote violence against the self or the other, these texts may be shaping people to choose violence.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Yes, Carol, I agree with what you say. From what I’ve read and understand about Reza Aslan, I think he would agree as well. I understand all to well (from my own experience) that somebody’s interpretation of “religion” shapes us. For some reason, though, “religion” has an untouchable quality to it. People shaped by a particular religion often don’t think about it critically, considering that to be “off limits.” Easy then for followers to behave violently “in the name of the Lord.” My mother, NOT a violent person by nature, approved of violence if she felt “the Lord” called for it–death penalty for egregious sins and of course egregious was defined by her interpretation of Scripture. Things get complex and convoluted quickly when this topic of violence comes up. I’m glad Anjeanette wrote about it.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. It is time we recognize these acts as hate terrorism. There are not “good people”
    on both sides. Are there really two sides?
    I am tired of so called leaders that do nothing because they do not want to offend donors. It is also time to realize that these same leaders endorse the hate on some level. The same people quick to yell “radical Islamic terrorist” refuse to acknowledge anything else.

    Liked by 1 person

    • But if we call it ‘hate terrorism’ then we have accepted the deed on their terms. We have accepted that their act was terror, just as they wish. There must be an alternative. Just as NZ PM, Jacinda Ardern, said, don’t even use their name.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I would like to blame the Abuser-in-Chief for all these bombings and fires and say his bigotry and racism and lies are at least partly to blame. But he’s only part of it. As we all know, religious terrorism has been going on for millennia. Patriarchal pride, also part of our world for millennia, is largely behind the terror and the fires. How depressing this is!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. We cannot “eradicate” hatred or enforce peace. We have to stop othering. Our deepest power lies in each person’s ability to Be The Change … then make conscious, careful choices toward compassionate, peaceful action. Lately, one of my mantras has been the first portion of Diane Ackerman’s poem “School Prayer” which states, after honoring Nature, that:
    “I swear I will not dishonor
    my soul with hatred,
    but offer myself humbly
    as a guardian of nature,
    as a healer of misery,
    as a messenger of wonder,
    as an architect of peace.”

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Our patriarchal cultures, mental illness, and the availability of guns are to blame for the violence around the world and in our homes. Patriarchy permeates all of western society. I was shocked and appalled when I found out recently that a friend, an educated feminist who is a former Marine and a former pastor, wanted an AR-15. When I asked her why, she said she wanted an AR-15 because that is what the Marines have. Now this is a woman who has PTSD and is a survivor of Military Sexual Trauma, and yet she identifies with being a Marine, even though that was about 40 years ago and she was dishonorably discharged and had to take the Marines to court to get what was due her!


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