We are all shaken by this latest incident of horrific violence, especially coming as it does after a long string of horrific violence and especially as the target was a church. It seems like there is so much hatred and bloodshed in our world today. The news is frightening. It's even becoming hard to give attention to these acts of violence because they're almost the new normal. They hurt in an undifferentiated way- not the pain of a single, terrible concert shooting or church shooting, but also the hurt of living in a country where shootings have become part of the culture. Some in the government have stated that it is not appropriate to talk about gun control in the aftermath of a shooting, yet for so long, we have been in the aftermath of a shooting, because they keep coming: Sandy Hook, Pulse, Vegas, and more. And we know that another will come. In part because it seems that there is nothing we can do about gun violence.
Last Sunday, it happened at a church. We left our own service to discover that the worst shooting in Texas history had occurred at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, a tiny town outside San Antonio. 26 men, women, and children were killed and many injured.
Human beings aren’t wired to be afraid all the time. Our brains can’t process this threat. These single shooter murders touch on so much of what frightens us most- they’re unpredictable; we have no control over them.
At Beavercreek UCC, we are preparing for emergency planning and active shooter training.
In the meantime, it is important for us to know that there has never been an occurrence of such violence over theology. The Southern Baptist church in Texas where the shooting just took place was the church the shooter's in-laws attended, and he had a history of domestic violence. Black churches, mosques, and synagogues have all been targeted for violence, but that's not about theology. It's about hate. This kind of violence has never happened to a progressive Christian church because it was progressive. Progressive churches have been targeted for vandalism and theft (at probably higher rates than average- though churches in general are often picked out for vandalism and theft). These shooters have been angry, entitled individuals who want to lash out and hurt others and get their names in the paper, and they have generally chosen random places to attack- churches, schools, nightclubs, shopping centers. It's a strange kind of reassuring that though it could happen at BUCC, since it could happen anywhere, it would not be because of our boldness in welcome. Nearly 100 people are killed every day by gun violence in this country. The key common denominator is guns. It’s not about what the victims did or did not do.
Jesus says repeatedly in the gospels, “Do not be afraid”. It’s an important theme throughout the Bible, in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. Christ told us to love, love God and love neighbor, and love generously, but he knew that fear pushes out love. Love is the central theme of our faith, and Jesus understood that courage is the only way to have love. So do not be afraid. Fear keeps us from deep love, from generous giving, from visionary dreaming. When we are afraid, we cannot risk, and love is risk. 1 John 4:8 tells us that love drives out fear, but the reverse is true as well. Fear drives out love. They cannot co-exist.
Following Jesus has always been risky. He warned us of this. It makes so much sense to be afraid in this climate. I get that. I don't know how this has become the world we live in. I don't want to let that fear make us smaller though. That is not who we are called to be. In Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl wrote that “fear makes come true that which one is afraid of.” We can see this around us. Fear of immigrants, of difference, of the other- and the more we believe other people- God’s beloveds- are unlike us, the more we separate ourselves.
It makes sense to make a safety plan, and we will do this, yet what our world needs is more courage, more love, more integrity, more audacious witness. We must be aware; we must be concerned; we must try to make change, in our culture and our guns laws; we must not be terrified or paralyzed.
Emmanuel means “God with us.” Jesus coming to earth, which we celebrate next month, is the story of a God who leaves the comfort, the security, of heaven to join the suffering on earth. Along with Christians around the world, we identify with a victim of violence —a nonviolent, merciful, forgiving, and grace-filled victim. This is perhaps one of the most radical teachings of our faith, turning the wisdom and priorities of this world upside down.
Nelson Mandela said, “May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” So may our choices reflect our hope, our faith, and our love.