A flurry of well wishes were unleashed across the United States in the wake of the Dayton and El Paso shootings ten days ago. These well-meaning expressions of sympathy were tweeted, emailed, texted, written, preached, and whispered: You are in our thoughts and prayers.
While words of comfort are always appropriate, in and of themselves, they are increasingly inadequate as a ministry response. Maybe thoughts and prayers were an adequate response after Columbine. But here we are 20 years later. What was an isolated incident of horror has become a public health crisis. So much so that in 2019 there have been more mass shootings than days in the year. According to Gun Violence Archives, a mass shooting is defined as four or more people killed, not including the shooter.
As a nation we seem to be stuck and paralyzed, unwilling or unable to prevent further mayhem. Is there anything the church can do when the government can’t or won’t? Absolutely. As vessels of divine love, who carry light into the world, you are empowered to co-create new realities with God.
How does this spiritual reality translate into visible action? It involves shifting your focus from comfort ministries to challenge ministries.
Jesus engaged in both kinds of ministries. He not only healed others who suffered the crippling effects of sin and powerlessness, he created a new kind of community in which those distresses couldn’t take root. Because you are made in the image and likeness of God, you can do the same.
Let’s take a look how.
Up until this point, comfort ministries have been primarily employed in the case of mass shootings. Thoughts, prayers, impromptu memorial sites, community services, and counseling for the bereaved have pulled together traumatized communities. But they haven’t bound up the brokenhearted families or brought the dead back to life. Nor have they put a halt to public shootings at the movies, food festivals, concerts, yoga classes, and stores. They haven’t stopped a gunman from killing people in church, synagogue, school, or at home. Because they haven’t dealt with the why or the how of the violence.
Challenge ministries get at root causes. What are some of the root causes of these shootings? One common denominator is domestic violence. Investigations are beginning to reveal that many of these gunmen have a history of domestic violence. This is compounded by the ready availability of military-grade weapons, coupled with an inadequate system of background checks, and spurred on by a darknet of hate-promoting sites. It all brews in a culture of toxic masculinity and fear of loss of power as the US and world population grows increasingly multicultural. This fear of the “other” includes a fear of black and brown-skinned people, Jews, Muslims, Christians, Amish, gays, Mexicans, immigrants, and women. It’s made all the more heinous by a lockdown on treating this as a public health crisis.
What can you do in the face of this? Keep reading to discover five ways. But first, let me invite you to join me for a free one-hour webinar to discuss how to respond to mass shootings, Beyond Thoughts and Prayers: Responding to the Unthinkable. Email us to register and receive a link.
Back to the five steps. But first, before I tell you what they are, be aware that they will require all the courage the Christian life has to offer.
- Remember who you are. You are made in the image and likeness of God. As a follower of Jesus Christ, you bring love and light into the world. As a partner with the Holy Spirit, you co-create miracles through willingness and faith.
- From this space, forgive the shooters, the factors that led to their violent deeds, and the paralysis of the nation. If you can’t do that, imagine God’s unconditional love and Jesus’ forgiveness for them even in the midst of the evil. If you can’t do that, at least ask God to help you set those feelings aside temporarily. Why? If you meet their anger, hostility, loathing and fear with your own, then the atmosphere of us v. them has simply increased. Love and light cannot win in that environment. And love and light must win.
- Next, lift up your thoughts and prayers in a brand-new way. Turn your thoughts to the covenant you have made with the community of faith: “To accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice and oppression.” Pray on those words. Gently turn aside the thoughts that say you can’t make a difference. Go back to praying. Couple that with reading Matthew 17:20 and John 14:13.
- After this, redirect your attention from the trauma at hand to an expansive vision of the Kingdom. What would a community look in which the thought of shooting others wouldn’t even occur for people? In which a violent fear of the other couldn’t take root? Envisioning this will take holy imagination, creative conversation, and much prompting of the Holy Spirit. Allow the Spirit to take you there.
- Ask God what action or actions you can take toward that vision. Be aware that this will require more than one person or a few people to accomplish. And likely more courage than you currently have. Be brave. Be faithful. Trust that God trusts you to do this.
Do share this process with others. Invite them to forgive, to re-direct their thoughts and prayers toward the freedom they have to act, to envision the Kingdom, and to choose an action.