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Alleged Poway Shooter's Religious Beliefs Outlined In Letter Being Debated Among Evangelical Christian Pastors

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A small evangelical Christian denomination is roiling over a letter allegedly written by the 19-year-old man charged with the Chabad of Poway shooting.

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Speaker 1: 00:00 The rabbi wounded during Saturday's deadly shooting at Hibachi of Poway synagogue. Spoke today in Washington DC at the national prayer breakfast at the White House. Rabbi Israel Goldstein had this to say in the wake of the violence at his synagogue. I was

Speaker 2: 00:16 in the line of fire bullets flying all the way. My fingers got blown off, but I did not stop. The Rebbie taught me. As a Jew, you are a soldier of God. You need to stand tall and stand fast and do whatever it takes to change the world.

Speaker 1: 00:36 Also, speaking at the prayer breakfast was Oscar Stewart, the army and navy veteran of the Iraq war who charged the shooter and chased him from the synagogue. Here's Stuart's comments at today's prayer breakfast.

Speaker 3: 00:48 We need to be strong as a, as a group of people that love God, whether you call him Mohamad, whether you call him Shivah, whether you call him your way, how sham, whatever you may need to be strong because that's the only way we're going to defeat evil and just in, do not be afraid to be who you are. Be Proud and lift yourself up.

Speaker 1: 01:09 Fall out from the tragedy continues. A small evangelical denomination is roiling over a letter allegedly written by a 19 year old man charged with the Poway synagogue shooting the shooting. Suspect pleaded not guilty at his arraignment this week. He's held without bail on charges of killing one person and wounding for others at the synagogue. Chargers characterize it as a hate crime. The letter posted online, which was quickly taken down. It's causing serious soul searching among the leaders in the Orthodox Presbyterian church. According to a story in today's Washington Post, joining me as the reporter who wrote that piece, Julie's osmolar covers religion, faith, and spirituality for the Washington Post. Julie, welcome to midday addition. Thanks for having me start with that seven page letter that it appears the shooter wrote. What core beliefs did he outline in it?

Speaker 4: 01:57 A lot of different beliefs, most of which are coming from white supremacist and antisemitic chat rooms and various online forums, but some of it is coming from Christian theology. Uh, some of what he talks about his about his own salvation and how he's saved because he's been selected by God, not because of his actions and about the martyrdom of various Christian figures throughout history including talking about how the Jews killed Jesus as he puts it. He quotes from the New Testament. It's not just online hate rooms

Speaker 1: 02:34 and tell us about the Orthodox Presbyterian Church about why it was founded and some of its main beliefs.

Speaker 4: 02:40 His denomination, the Orthodox Presbyterian church is a fairly small denomination, about 300 something churches. It's been around a long time. It split from other Presbyterian denominations because it was concerned about the log getting to liberal. It is a very conservative Orthodox in the name denomination and relevant in this case it subscribes to a theology called reformed theology, which covers a lot of different denominations out there, many Presbyterian denominations and others and this reformed Calvinist theology basically teaches that salvation like the shooter apparently said in his letter is not up to you or anything you do that God has preordained who will be saved and go to heaven. Their theology about Israel is also pretty interesting. A lot of evangelical Christians are tremendous fans of Israel and very, very supportive of the modern day state of Israel in part because they believe that the Jewish people need to be in the land of Israel in order to bring about the second coming and the end times. Uh, Presbyterians by and large do not believe that they have what's called replacement theology. That means every time a promise to the Jews, as mentioned in the Bible, they think that the Jews have been replaced by the Christian Church and there's no relevance to the modern day state of Israel. There's no real role in history for the Jews anymore.

Speaker 1: 04:18 And uh, some OPC pastors you interviewed reacted powerfully to the news of the shooting at the synagogue here in Poway. What did they say?

Speaker 4: 04:26 They were heartbroken. They were very shaken to realize that this young man came out of their denomination and he's a church goer. He's there regularly and there there's some pastors who are saying some sang, of course, look, this has nothing to do with Christian theology. We white supremacy is completely antithetical to Christian beliefs. Violence is totally against our beliefs, but there are others who are saying, look, if this man came out of our church, we need to look pretty closely at whether we're sending a message from the pulpit that really tells people that you can't be a white supremacist and fit in here.

Speaker 1: 05:04 No. The idea a, if there were an act of quote radical Islamic terror, there would be calls to mod to a moderate Muslims to condemn the violence and beliefs behind that. What about when the shooter is a conservative Christian?

Speaker 4: 05:18 That for me, certainly it was a question in writing this story. Every time that there's an act of terrorism committed by someone who says he's acting in the name of Islam, Muslims around the world are called to answer for that and others say, hey, they shouldn't be because these terrorists are way, way, way outside the mainstream. And it's a religion that believes in peace and loving your neighbors and moderate Muslims shouldn't have to speak up for the craziest person who affiliates with them. And so the question is, well, this time when it's a bible believing Christian, should we say, hey, it's your turn, you've got to answer for this member of your community or should we say, hey, if Muslims don't think they should answer for this, then why should Christians and it's a hard line to walk.

Speaker 1: 06:11 Well we should know the family issued a statement saying their sons beliefs horrified them and members of the Escondido Orthodox Presbyterian Church express similar horror with the pastor hosting a discussion on the topic and offering support to uh, how about uh, [inaudible]. So, uh, that certainly was, was out there too as well.

Speaker 4: 06:30 Yes. The church community itself was completely shocked and horrified and the manifesto even says, no, I didn't learn this from my family. They don't believe this.

Speaker 1: 06:42 Now do you think this tragedy will cause a meaningful debate within Christian communities or will this act be dismissive of that of a mentally ill person perhaps?

Speaker 4: 06:52 I think some of that debate is really already happening. I think just in what I've seen, especially online among evangelical pastors talking amongst themselves, this is really hitting a nerve. That debate is really out there talking about how the language that a preacher uses from the pulpit maybe needs to be reconsidered. Uh, for example, these, these are verses of the Bible that he quoted and this isn't unique to him. These are verses that have been used by any Semites for hundreds if not thousands of years. The verses that say the Jews killed Jesus and various other verses that blame Jews very broadly. There are pastors now having discussions with each other saying when you read that verse of the Bible out loud in your church because you're going through the Bible, you need to clarify it. You need to put that in some perspective and not just read these things, knowing that people can misinterpret them.

Speaker 1: 07:51 And this letter we're talking about a that circulated online right after the attack. It also contained grievances against Jews that had nothing to do with religion, right?

Speaker 4: 08:00 Yes. Lots and lots of this letter was racist, was any Semitic was not coming from Christianity. It was coming from a wide range of other sources

Speaker 1: 08:14 and Jews control the media and some of these uh, allegations, right?

Speaker 4: 08:18 Yes. It's full of a lot of accusations. I don't recommend reading it to anybody.

Speaker 1: 08:27 Okay. And as we say, it's, it's been taken offline. And I should note this young man was just rained and charged this week and trial trials yet to come and certainly not convicting him or saying that the, this, this case is over with. At this point.

Speaker 4: 08:42 It's barely begun. It's going to be a long criminal process, I'm sure.

Speaker 1: 08:47 Well, I've been speaking with reporter Julie's Osmolar who covers religion, faith, and spirituality for the Washington Post. Thanks, Julie. Thank you.

Speaker 5: 09:03 Yeah.

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KPBS Midday Edition is a daily talk show hosted by Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon, keeping San Diegans in the know on everything from politics to the arts.