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Sutherland Springs

November 6, 2017

Yesterday a man with an assault rifle sprayed gunfire outside and inside First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing 26 and wounding many more. Today we are all in shock.

As a pastor and a father, I am particularly grieved by the death of a five-year-old, as well as the pastor’s fourteen-year-old daughter. Yesterday I preached about “Facing Old Age.” But those two will never experience old age or middle age or even young adulthood. They will never go to college or work creatively at an occupation or marry or have children. They will never have the full opportunity to bless the world through their many talents and love. I can only imagine how shattered are the lives of their parents.

I wonder if the congregation will ever recover. Their sacred meeting place is forever a place of horror.

The gunman is dead and we don’t know much about him yet, though he was obviously a very troubled man. He was dishonorably discharged from the Air Force for assaulting his wife and child. He lived not far from the church. His in-laws attended there.

Attacking a church suggests rage against God, against whatever is held sacred, against the foundations of meaning and goodness. Attacking a church is the act of a powerless person wanting to feel all-powerful over those in a most vulnerable position. But we will never know much about what was going on in his tormented and fractured mind.

What scares us is that we know there are more people in our society like him. Our country has recently experienced a rash of mass shootings and mass killings. They are likely to go on. Has it always been this way? Or are we sicker than we used to be?

Yes, I favor such things as universal background checks and limited ammunition clips. But gun legislation will have little effect on the frequency of mass shootings or the soul of society. Change has to be on a more fundamental level. We have to treasure every human being–even the ones we hate. We have to nurture a culture of conflict resolution instead of brute force victory. We have to expose the myth of redemptive violence as a false myth.

How do we begin? By not reacting. By not pushing back. By not hating and escalating. Yes, we need good law enforcement and practical protections. But we also need to subvert the destructive impulses (in others as well as ourselves) by seeking surprising, de-escalating responses–responses that build the value of all human beings instead of undermining it.

The gunman has a name, but I won’t say it. I won’t give him any attention. Right now I have no sympathy for him. A part of me is glad he’s dead. But eventually I have to realize that he too was a child of God, and God mourns his brokenness. God wants us all to be redeemed.

Dear Lord, comfort the grieving. Weep with us and put your arms around us. Let there be hope. Amen.


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