After Sutherland Springs: What Now?

Yet another tragic and grotesquely violent mass killing; what are Christians to do?

I’m writing this as I ponder many of the conversations that I’ve had this week about the recent – shall we say, the latest – tragic violence that’s been brought to us in vivid color via our TV’s and electronic devices, the shooting this past Sunday in Sutherland Springs, Texas. And this one hits home: violence wrought against innocent worshippers, many of them children, shot through the head by a man with with a semi-automatic rifle and a black kevlar vest.

J. Herbert Nelson II, Stated Clerk of the PC(USA)

Many of those conversations I had this week involved opinions on gun control; many expressed despair over whether our nation will continue to tolerate such heart-breaking violence and fail to respond with any meaningful restrictions on the sort of guns that kill masses of people so easily. Although I did not speak to anyone defending the 2nd Amendment as a reason not to take action, I know there are some Christians who take this position. Some others of our members spoke of how this event rekindles the sort of fear many experienced when an unbidden visitor recently interrupted the sermon during worship, claiming to be mentally ill; it was a hoax, but kicked up a lot of dust for us, and surely many must have thought that those worshippers could have been us; they could have been any Christian worshipping in any congregation on Sunday. One parishioner urged me to reach the congregation with some word about this latest tragedy, to provide comfort and spur conversation.

I’m a big fan of not saying what others have said much more eloquently than I could. And so I would urge you to read the statement issued by the Stated Clerk of our Presbyterian Church (USA) – J. Herbert Nelson II. His words would mirror my own sentiments, and provide some useful background on the witness of the church regarding gun violence. His words, “It is long past time for such a national conversation to commence,” call us not only to comfort ourselves, quell our fears – but most importantly to take action.

This is a time for faithful Christians to do something – anything – to respond. As you know, I am very big fan of human conscience: we read scripture, we examine our conscience, and we act, respecting that each one’s conscience may not indicate the same truth. But we converse, and we act. My job is not to tell you how to act; my job is to get you to read the book, and spur us all to conversation about what faithful people ought to do.

So hear this as an invitation – to reflect on scripture, and to act – and to urge others to act. What should faithful Christians do in the aftermath of this latest tragedy? What is God calling us, here in Lawrenceville, to do?

I welcome your comments to me personally, or much better – in the comments section below.

In faith,

Jeff Vamos

Comments

  1. Bonnie Galloway says:

    After the incident where three unexpected men entered our church during worship, I would like to immediately see greater security at the front doors. To brush the men’s unnerving appearance as “youthful pranks” dismisses the anxiety caused to many parishioners. This is not a time to study and have analysis/paralysis. Action must be taken before Sunday, November 12 to ensure the safety of all who attend worship.

    God is calling us to ensure the safety of those who worship at PCOL.

  2. Laura Winroth says:

    Yes, I agree with Bonnie. I was sitting directly to the side of the intruders that Sunday. I felt a great fear of being trapped in the pew in a situation that I didn’t know how it was to unfold. I agree that we need someone watching at our doors during the service, as well as a plan for action should something happen in our midst.

  3. Katie Stanek says:

    Have we contacted Lawrence police to ask their assistance in creating a lockdown type situation? Our school districts all plan with local police for these situations and I think it would be a good idea for us to do the same and train the congregation.

  4. Good – thanks for your comments, Bonnie, Laura and Katie. Yes, we’re working actively on safety procedures that have to do not only with intruders entering our building spaces (especially the sanctuary), but also any emergency situation – such as a health emergency or fire. We will keep the congregation posted on that.

    But here’s a question…I realize this tweaks our sense of vulnerability, as we worship. That is so very understandable and legitimate, and we are indeed using all of this as motivation to respond with sensible plans. But what is our broader responsibility to try to prevent such incidents in the first place? What is our responsibility as Christians to look at the bigger picture, and act so that such violent events don’t continue to become commonplace in our land – and we thus become numb to them? I’d also welcome your thoughts on that….

  5. Rev. Nelson points out the the Presbyterian Church, USA has been an advocate against gun violence for many years. The resolutions call on PC (USA) to advocate for a change in government positions on guns:

    “These resolutions have called on the church to be involved in education and advocacy at the federal, state, and community level to prevent gun violence. The 219th and 221st General Assemblies (2012) and (2014) reiterated and intensified this call, urging the church at every level—local, regional, and national—to participate in gun violence prevention, to provide pastoral and spiritual support to victims and survivors, and to engage in acts of public witness and policy advocacy to enact stronger legislation to systematically address the complex causes and work to reduce and eliminate the scourge of gun violence in our neighborhoods and nation.”

    As church members, we should work to support the strongest possible advocacy measures to ban the ownership of assault weapons by the general public. If every church in this country engaged its members in such advocacy efforts, we could make our voices heard. We could create pressure for those in government to enact the laws that will make citizens safer from gun violence. By collective effort, we can help ensure that our community remains a peaceful and welcoming one.

  6. Guns do not decide to be violent. People decide to be violent, and with their own free will, decide on their instrument of violence.

    Why do General Assembly resolutions focus on “providing pastoral and spiritual support to victims and survivors ”
    of violence before focusing on addressing “the complex causes[of violence] and work to reduce and eliminate the scourge of gun violence in our neighborhoods and nations.

    How and when are we our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers in our neighborhoods, communities and nations?

    Is this not the time to gather at the community wells wherever they may be ?

  7. Brent Ferguson says:

    I am deeply thankful for this conversation. Thank you for generating this forum, Jeff, and for sharing, Bonnie.

    Personally, I’ve begun to realize our human fragility in a new way lately. I suspect that anywhere persons gather en masse, they potentially act as a target for someone with ill intent. A group of fans at a sporting event; revelers at a party, dance club, or concert; worshipers in a congregation; students in a lecture hall; protesters on the street…we are all at risk. That is simply our reality. It always has been. We are vulnerable whenever we leave our home, in fact — many, many more people die from unstable drivers crossing the midline of a road, etc. than in any of these deliberate violent attacks. The facts about gun violence are well-reported: more deaths are caused by convenience — having a gun close at hand in a home — than any other cause. Domestic violence and suicide deaths are well more than 3/4 of the gun deaths in this country. It is that convenience (easy, unregulated access) that has caused this problem in our country, and it is a problem unique to our country alone. But I digress from the question about visible ‘security’ raised above.

    To wit: the presence of guards (or metal detectors, etc.) in churches/schools/etc. where crime is not in fact frequent (I cannot speak to schools in high-crime areas), act the same way that frequent ‘shooter drills’ do, like air raid drills of the 40s and nuclear shelter drills of the 60s and 70s. They do not substantially help inhibit the incidence, nor do they increase the odds of survival, of such an incident. They only increase fear and anxiety, and thus lower our quality of life. I for one think that we would regret any such move that would only create undue anxiety…and, ok, perhaps provide evidence in hindsight that ‘we tried’ in the aftermath of any such unlikely incident that might happen at PCOL in the future.

    The bold witness of joyful life in Christ to which we are called, I believe, is to cast out fear with our best attempt to enact God’s perfect love.

    I hope that we continue to welcome the stranger and the orphan, widow, and others on the margins. I hope that we can keep our doors open, to find ways to commit a large portion of our first fruits to this healthy and earnest church that I love, and to begin to take steps to visit the prisoner and minister to her/his needs…tend to the mission trips that are across the street and across the river…fund abundantly from our relative excess our neighbors’ programs that save and enrich lives, etc. I hope we can show up and gather, regularly, in community, to worship, even when the warm bed calls (or swim meets, golf courses, SAT classes, etc.). I hope we can trend toward tithing, at least striving to give 4-6% to the church and another 5% elsewhere. As a congregation, we’re no where near the kind of level of action of which we are capable. Funds would help. They would also get us ‘invested’ and engaged. First with the pocketbook, then with the hands, heart, head, and health. Let’s double our budget out of joyful gratitude and individual capacity, then see where God calls us to share from that abundant, powerful collective capacity…leaning in toward, not away from, the dangers of engagement with others.

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