Back-to-back U.S. mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, this past weekend have been a stark reminder of the frequency of horrific killings in the U.S. Thirty-one persons died in one weekend from those two events. Mass shootings in the U.S. are occurring on such a regular basis that some countries are warning their citizens to take extra precautions when traveling here.
As followers of Jesus Christ, how do we respond to such violence in our own country, especially when as in El Paso it is directed at a particular ethnic group? I invite you to join me in spending some time this weekend in the presence of God considering this question. Though some of our specific answers will vary based on our unique perspectives, common themes will emerge. As we respond collectively we can make a positive difference in addressing the violence in our culture.
For starters, we pray. I am not talking about a perfunctory, occasional casual mention of our concerns to God. Rather, we open our hearts before God in deep prayer, even fasting as we are able. We pray about these particular events and also the underlying dynamics. We lift up the families, friends and communities of the victims. We pray for forgiveness for any ways in which we contribute to our societal issues. We ask God to reveal to us blind spots in our attitudes and actions. We pray that God will show us what we can do to help make our country a safer place for citizens, visitors, minorities and immigrants.
Then, we inform ourselves. We increase our knowledge about our country’s gun laws, mental health care, racism, attitudes about immigrants and more. We read authors and talk with people who do not share our politics and ideologies and also those who do. We grow in our comprehension of the complexities and multiple dimensions to resolving these issues.
Next, we own our part in the current state of our country. Instead of blaming others we carefully examine our own hearts, attitudes and behaviors toward those who are different from us. We give permission to a handful of trusted friends to bring to our attention prejudices that they see in our words and deeds. (Ideally, these friends are diverse in their ethnicity, race, gender, age, socio-economic background, etc.).
Finally, we take informed, intentional and Christ-like actions. Examples include: 1) developing relationships with people from all walks of life (John 4:1-42); 2) praying that God not only forgives us but also changes us (Romans 8:2); 3) working to make life better for others (Matthew 7:12); and 4) advocating for our perspectives on current laws.
These are some of the ways that I hear God calling me to act in response to the horrific actions of last weekend. How about you?
As always it is a privilege to serve as your bishop.
North Alabama Conference