What do we do now? Torrents of words – predictable, defensive, insightful, angry, compassionate, ignorant and outrageous – have flowed from news media, politicians, preachers, pundits and social media opinion posts in response to the horrific shootings in El Paso and Dayton.
Because we follow the Prince of Peace, the seemingly endless incidents of gun violence and mass shootings in our nation affect us in a deep place. Our hearts and spirits feel this violence as a literal assault on our humanity and our faith.
So what do we do now? What sort of response is a worthy expression of our faith? After the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that killed 20 young children, British journalist Dan Hodges wrote that the gun control debate in the United States was effectively finished: “Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.”
Then we let 2,178 more shootings (and counting) happen.
Responses to the latest mass shootings have come from politicians, media, law enforcement, physicians, mental health professionals, educators and social scientists. Heartbreaking appeals have come from victims of violence and their families and friends. Activists and advocates persevere in calling for reasonable laws that restrict unfettered access to weapons made solely for the purpose of killing human beings as quickly, efficiently and devastatingly as possible.
“When they refuse to hear, we must persist still, speaking God’s message of peace and God’s condemnation of hatred and violence.”
Amid this outpouring, what makes the response of God’s Church any different, any more compelling? The response of people of faith is more powerful because it is a prophetic response. The Old Testament prophets responded to the evils of their day with a dedicated and constant voice. They refused to let their calls for justice be silenced. Their voices represented God’s voice as they communicated God’s word to the people. True prophets never spoke on their own authority, but rather delivered the message they heard from God. They dared to speak truth to power, whether secular or religious.
If God is speaking today, calling for peace and an end to violence, then the Church is God’s mouthpiece. We must raise our voices in the marketplace and in the halls of Congress. We must compel our leaders to listen and to act — law enforcement personnel and prosecutors, senators and representatives, local elected leaders, gun manufacturers, members and leaders of the National Rifle Association and, yes, the president of the United States.
When they refuse to hear, we must persist still, speaking God’s message of peace and God’s condemnation of hatred and violence. We must deliver the message constantly, without ceasing. We must speak with prophetic intensity, with the kind of holy lament found in the Book of Lamentations: “Arise, cry out in the night, as the watches of the night begin; pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord. Lift up your hands to him for the lives of your children” (Lamentations 2:19 NIV).
“The response of people of faith is more powerful because it is a prophetic response.”
Can we summon from within the kind of living faith that speaks to move mountains and part waters? Can we forsake our own words and ideas and instead speak God’s prophetic word? Can we use our voices to speak God’s message to our time and to our nation? Can we do it through phone calls and letters, visits to our government leaders, peaceful protests and prayer vigils that reach the eyes and ears of our leaders? And can we do this tirelessly for as long as it takes for change to occur?
The El Paso killer reportedly told law enforcement that he wanted to shoot as many “Mexicans” as possible. An online manifesto included details about himself, his weapons and his motivation. He described the El Paso attack as a “response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” and proclaimed that he was defending his country from “cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion.”
Most certainly, these words from a violent white supremacist should offend every follower of God. His evil intent is also an offense to God. In response to such evil, the Church must respond boldly, courageously, persistently and prophetically. We must call for justice and peace and work for justice and peace for as long as it takes.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one of several opinion articles by our columnists and regular opinion contributors, along with several unsolicited submissions, written in the aftermath of mass shootings on Aug. 3 in El Paso, Texas, and Aug. 4 in Dayton, Ohio.
Also on this topic:
Daniel Bagby | Letter to the editor