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Alleged Synagogue Shooter Member of Orthodox Presbyterian Church

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The man in custody for allegedly opening fire at a California synagogue on Saturday, killing one person, attended an Orthodox Presbyterian church. The pastor of that congregation, along with prominent Christian leaders, has spoken out against the attack.

John T. Earnest, 19, is charged with one count of first-degree murder and three counts of attempted first-degree murder. On Saturday, the last day of Passover, he’s suspected of opening fire inside the Chabad of Poway temple in Poway, California, northeast of San Diego. Lori Kaye, 60, was killed, reportedly while trying to shield Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who was among three people injured.

“We completely deplore what he did”

For most of his life, Earnest was a member of Escondido Orthodox Presbyterian Church, about 13 miles from Poway. Zach Keele, pastor of that church, condemns the attack, saying, “We completely deplore what he did.”

“It is not part of our beliefs, our practices, our teachings in any way,” Keele says. “Our hearts, our prayers, our tears go out to the victims. To all those wonderful neighbors at the synagogue, we pray for them.” The pastor adds, “It just saddens us that this horrible act of evil could come from someone we know.”

News of the shooting was “a complete surprise,” Keele says, indicating that Earnest was quiet, “sweet” and kept to himself. Earnest wasn’t active in the church’s youth group, but his father, a high school physics teacher, is a longtime elder. The church held a special session on Sunday to address the incident.

Shortly before the attack, authorities say the alleged shooter posted a manifesto online. Earnest also has been connected to a racist post that glorifies mass shooters and the killing of Jews. Saying he was inspired by last month’s Christchurch mosque shooting, Earnest noted that his racist beliefs don’t come from his family. “I had to learn what they should have taught me from the beginning,” he posted.

“Loving your neighbor…is always the better choice”

Among the prominent pastors condemning the attack are author and radio host David Jeremiah. “The Christian community stands firmly and compassionately behind our Jewish brothers and sisters,” he says, “and we condemn hatred against anyone, especially those with their heads bowed in prayer, as those in Poway were, celebrating the last day of Passover.”

Georgia pastor, author and TV host Jentezen Franklin says, “I so desperately want the world to know that the God who made us and loves us does not call us to act in violence toward anyone. In a time of increasing hostility toward nearly every faith, I pray we all take a moment to remind our children that a bullet, a bomb or a clenched fist is never the answer to our troubles. Loving your neighbor—no matter their race, religion or creed—is always the better choice.”

Twitter users discussed the alleged shooter’s reformed religious background. Mika Edmondson, pastor of New City Fellowship in Grand Rapids, Michigan, tweeted: “I was horrified to learn that [Kaye’s] murderer is a member of the OPC…brainwashed by white nationalism in the very midst of a reformed congregation.”

Edmondson later clarified: “Pastor Zach Keele has wisely and humbly taken this tragedy as an opportunity for serious soul searching among Reformed folks about racism in the church. Rather than become defensive or dismissive, let’s join him in that commitment and in laying hold of this opportunity.”

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Stephanie Martin, a freelance journalist, has worked in Christian publishing for 28 years. She’s active at her church in Lakewood, Colorado, where she lives with her family.