M. Scott Johnson
Like the rest of us in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, I was stunned and sickened to learn that John T. Earnest, who opened fire on worshipers at the Chabad of Poway synagogue in Poway, California, on April 27, 2019, was a member of an OPC congregation.
Our little denomination, virtually unknown to the world at large, was now associated in news articles with white nationalism, anti-Semitism, hatred, and terrorism. As much as we may argue that these evils are categorically opposite to our Christian and Reformed convictions, as indeed I believe they are, the fact is that an OP member committed this atrocity. And so we share the shame, if not the blame.
Yet in the providence of God, the very next day and just a few miles away, another OP member was honored publicly by the Jewish community.
The Community Holocaust Commemoration, held in connection with Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, took place in La Jolla, California. This event had been months in the planning, but the previous day’s violence added an urgent poignancy to the gathering.
The program included an official recognition by the Israeli Consulate of Cornelis and Wilhelmina de Ru who, during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands during World War II, successfully protected fourteen Jewish people by hiding them in their home until they reached safety elsewhere.
Their son, Herman, who was a boy during the war and remembers the events, is a longtime ruling elder at Harvest OPC in San Marcos, California. He is also the father of Fred de Ru, a member of Grace OPC in Wasilla, Alaska, the church I serve as pastor.
Herman de Ru was present for the ceremony and received the “Righteous Among the Nations” medallion on behalf of his parents, but, due to his poor health, it was Fred and his cousin who spoke for him. In front of an audience of six hundred people, they told the story of how and why the de Ru family risked their safety to save the lives of strangers during the Nazi occupation.
At great risk, Cornelis and Wilhelmina provided shelter to those in need and even took a Jewish baby into their home, whose cries could have unwittingly betrayed them. Fully aware that, if discovered, they could be imprisoned or killed, the de Rus were confident that this was the Christian thing to do.
I later asked Fred if the people leading the ceremony were aware that he and his dad belonged to the same denomination as the Chabad of Poway attacker. Wondering the same thing, Fred had approached one of the rabbis before the ceremony. The rabbi replied that yes, he was aware of the link, but after reading the OPC’s statement condemning the attack, he was satisfied that Herman de Ru’s church affiliation was not a problem. And so, de Ru was honored by the Jewish community and the government of Israel for his family’s brave expression of love for their Jewish neighbors during the war.
The same church body, then, from which came a man who murdered a Jewish woman, injured three others, and terrorized an entire community, is the spiritual home of a man whose family—out of their Christian convictions—risked their lives to save those of the Jewish people. The same community that suffered at the hands of the first man on one day, honored the second the day after.
Against the backdrop of the atrocity at Chabad of Poway, the de Ru family’s courageous, self-sacrificial love stands as a true witness to all that we believe about God and Christ.
As members of the OPC, even as we are grieved to learn that the killer at the Poway synagogue was from one of our congregations, we may be tempted to exult in the story of the de Rus, seeing in it a vindication of our faith and church. To be honest, that was my initial motive for sharing this story.
However, there is a more sobering message in this providential series of events. As much as the shooter’s actions saddened us, and even shamed us, the truth is that there is in the heart of each of us a terrifying capacity to do evil (Mark 7:21–22). The evil that erupted from the heart of the attacker lurks in the heart of us all. As sinners, there is no sin we are not capable of committing. And no church in the world, nor family in the world, can make our hearts good. Only Christ can do that. By his grace alone, God’s people may perform extraordinary acts of self-sacrifice and love—as the de Ru family did during the war. But apart from his grace, any person—even with the best upbringing—can do great evil.
Our hope, then, is not in our church or in ourselves, but only in the saving power of Jesus Christ. The Scriptures say that God has made Christ our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. Therefore, “as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1 Cor. 1:30–31).
The author is pastor of Grace OPC in Wasilla, Alaska. New Horizons, August–September 2019.