As many of you know, I am Greek Orthodox. But until recently, my son was not. My wife, who is Southern Baptist, convinced me not to baptize our son and not pressure him towards one faith or another so that he could choose his own spirituality when he was old enough to make that choice.
One day, a few years ago, my son came to me and said he wanted to join the Greek Orthodox faith. I’m not sure how or why he made that decision, but I could not have been happier or prouder. I was still cautious. I wanted him to know exactly what he was getting himself into. So I found a nice church in Sacramento and we began to attend Sunday service together.
For me it was no big deal. I was baptized a few months after I was born by my Grandfather, who was a priest. I was raised in Chicago where I attended a school run by our local church. My brother and I were altar boys. So when I walked up to the steps of our new church in Sacramento, with my son slightly behind me, on that first Sunday, it was like coming home. No big deal.
But for my son, it was a new experience, and he noticed things I have always taken for granted. As we entered we were greeted by the Church Elders in the lobby. I spoke a little Greek and earned some smiles. We signed the guest book. But as we made our way up the aisle to take a seat, my son leaned over to me and whispered, “I didn’t know churches had bouncers.”
I instantly understood exactly what my son was talking about. The Church Elders in just about any Greek church are a group of very big, very serious men in suits that scrutinize everyone entering. If my son and I did not pass their silent but very intense inspection, we would not have been allowed to enter the church.
This did not surprise me. It is the way it has always been throughout my experience. I was raised to recognize that it is a dangerous world, that there are good people and bad people, and not everyone likes or understands Greek people. I take it for granted that care must be taken to make sure dangerous people do not enter the House of God and disturb Christ’s Peace.
Since then, my son, Evan, has been baptized and has been given his Greek name – Evangelos (it means “good messenger”) – which he speaks before taking Holy Communion. And now the Church Elders recognize him and stand aside as he enters to take his place every Sunday.
After church this last Sunday I learned that not every Christian church has “bouncers” to preserve Christ’s Peace.
Last Sunday, May 31, 2009, in Kansas City, Missouri, Dr. George Tiller went to church like he did every Sunday. But that day, during the service, a man walked up to Dr. Teller, took out a gun and shot him in the head. As Dr. Teller fell, the gunman threatened to kill anyone who tried to help him. The gunman then left the church and drove away in a car parked outside on the street.
Dr. Tiller is a doctor that performs abortions. He is the latest in a long string of Doctors who have been killed by religious fanatics who oppose abortion and believe Jesus approves of killing doctors who perform abortions.
I am morally opposed to abortion. I believe that life is sacred. But I am part of a spiritual tradition that prefers a different approach to solving the problem. For example, my church raised the money to buy an abortion clinic located right next door. We converted it into a bookstore. I smile when I think about it, how quintessentially Greek is that non-violent, elegant, poetic solution.
But when I think about Dr. Teller’s assassination, I realize that I know exactly what it represents. A crazy person who did an evil, horrible act in the name of God committed that killing. He killed Dr. Teller because Dr. Teller was a sinner, and it is okay to kill sinners.
I know of others who think and behave this way. They are killing American troops in Afghanistan and blowing up schools in Pakistan. They call themselves the Taliban, and they are hell-bent on forcing everyone to follow an extreme version of Islam, which believes that it is perfectly fine to kill anyone who believes differently than they do.
There is a place in Pakistan’s Swat Valley called the “Bloody Crossroads” where each night the Taliban dump the bodies of the sinners they have killed. They do it so that, each morning, the people can look out and be afraid – not of God, but of the Taliban.
We Americans think we are better than everyone else. We take pride in our moral superiority. If you are one of those who do, Dr. Teller’s death should make you question, just a little, the basis for your pride. We Americans are capable of giving birth to people just as crazy, just as deadly, just as evil, as those filthy Taliban. Remember that Jim Jones was American. Remember that David Koresh was American. Remember that Timothy McVey was American.
And then, if you are lucky, you will remember Dr. George Tiller, realize his church is our bloody crossroads where an American Taliban dumped a body to inspire fear, and then, if you have any decency at all, you will wonder what in God’s name has happened to us.