First of all, my heart goes out to those in Oregon at the community college that was the site of the recent rampage that killed 9 students. As was the case with every shooting like this, I have a special place of empathy and sympathy for those involved. Having been one of the pastors who helped pick up the pieces in the aftermath of the Westside school shooting, I know what it is like to be a community living in the aftermath of these kind of horrors. Long after the news trucks and politicians have milked what they can from the situation, those locally are the ones who put things back together for months and years afterward. No knee-jerk reaction by either those on the political or journalistic right or left solves anything. And after thinking about this for the past several days - ANY knee-jerk reaction in the midst of the pain and horror will probably do more harm than good. It is better for wiser, less power-motivated people to think through things and come up with truly wise decisions. That being said - I do want to weigh in on a matter that currently is breaking my heart as I read about this event.
I read several articles online about this wickedness, and in seeking to be informed, was shocked at the kind of rhetoric that is dominating the conversation. There was one news report that tried its best to stick to the facts on the incident - but the others quickly descended into pejorative and incendiary remarks that broke my heart. You can actually look at the source of the articles and pretty much predict whether it is going to be a rant from the right of the left before you even read the article. One rants about gun violence - the other gun control. Some rant about this being a hate crime - others that it is senseless violence. But if you truly want to be shocked, read the comments below the articles. The pure unadulterated vitriol and verbal poison spewed there blows my mind. It is as if we are unable to react to the tragedy and horror of what the people in Oregon are going through without immediately indicting the political right or left for what has happened. If you read enough of it - you will find yourself inexorably drawn into it - with the subsequent raising of your blood pressure and temptation to join in the verbal barrage from one vantage point or the other. After reading all this and thinking about it, I’d like to take a great risk and seek to insert some Scripture into our understanding of Oregon, Charleston, Fort Hood, Ferguson, Columbine, and even Westside.
“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. 30 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:29-32
I’ve actually walked up to a school that was shot up and smelled of death. I have sat and talked with people who were in shock after they endured an attack like this. They need comfort, prayer, and a shoulder to cry on. They need “edifying” words spoken - words which give them grace as they hear them. They do NOT need anyone from either side of the political aisle to politicize their suffering and grief. Paul said it best when he said we need to be kind and tender-hearted - steering clear of bitter, angry, clamoring, slanderous words that try to assign blame to someone other than the evil man who murdered 9 people at the community college where this happened. It is unconscionable in any of these horrific situations to take the pain or others and turn it into a platform for political action - and to do so before the sun even goes down on the blood of those who have lost their lives. What we did at Westside for days was sit and listen and cry and pray and comfort real, living, hurting people.
Where are we as a nation when even our most tragic moments cannot elicit from us comfort and compassion without it degenerating to a political shouting match within hours? I was in shock as I read how people posted online the most horrible statements about each other and about various groups that either support or oppose gun control. Both sides should be ashamed of themselves for using this event for their own ends. Before we have even buried one of the dead - the rhetorical “long-knives” have come out and the battle has ensued for who can claim the moral high ground. The truth is both sides are patently immoral for their words and actions that seek to use this situation for their own benefit - rather than respond with grief, compassion for those killed and their families, and prayer and support for the community that needs it right now.
Let me ask a few questions as I close this article. Rather than get caught up in the political rhetorical barrages that are being loosed by both sides, can we consider the following course of action instead? Will we use our words to build up others according to the NEED of this moment? Will we consider how to insert GRACE (especially the grace of God in the gospel) into the conversation? Will we make a decided choice NOT to respond with bitter statements and anger toward the wrong people or groups? Will we choose to reject what the Scriptures call “clamor”? (the word here is “krauge” and it spoke of a public outcry or public controversy - think seriously about the political people using this for THEIR advantage right now) Will we reject the temptation to slander others by stating that this shooting is their fault because they did or didn’t support “insert your issue of choice”. The fact is that this shooting is the fault of the lawless, ungodly actions of one man who chose to act wickedly! Here is the truth folks! We can use our words right now to build up or to tear down. The choice is ours. May God so work in the hearts of His saints, that especially in this situation, we look and talk radically different than the rest of the world.