How Can Christians Respond to the Dayton Shooting?
This time it literally hit close to home.
The time of this writing is just 24 hours after a mass shooting in Dayton that resulted in ten fatalities and a community looking for answers. The proximity of the Dayton shooting made it not simply a news story, it has dramatically impacted our lives. This is our city, our Oregon District and our loved ones.
We are at a loss for words and loss of direction. Yet, as Christians, we are to be a source of comfort and hope, even when we are not sure exactly what to do. So, what do we know we can do?
The response of Christians in every situation is to pray. When we pray, we are taking our concerns to the God who is able to give hope and comfort when the circumstances have appeared to take it away. This may sound obvious, but as Samuel Johnson has said, “People need to be reminded more than they need to be instructed.” Our prayers make a difference. Praying is not just the “least we can do.” It is both the “least we can do” and the first thing we should do.
Yet how do we pray to God when we don’t even know what to say to one another? Let me offer three suggestions.
Pray for and with the families and loved ones of the victims. Following the unjust and similarly horrific execution of John the Baptist, the Bible states simply the disciples “took the body and buried it and they went and told Jesus.” (Matthew 14:12). When they did not know exactly what to do, they knew where they could turn as they mourned. As we pray for people, we are able to bring concerns, pain, confusion, anger, uncertainly and everything else to God in prayer. We worship a God that knows the feeling of seeing His only Son suffer an unjust execution. We worship a risen Christ who can sympathize with our weaknesses. The Holy Spirit is able to intercede when we don’t know how to pray or the words to pray. We serve a God that can give peace and comfort when nothing else can.
Pray for our city. We should pray for the welfare of our great city. Cities, like people, go through seasons of joy and pain. The pain our city has been through this summer is unparalleled. We began our summer with three dozen tornados that destroyed over 30,000 residences and just weeks later we find ourselves the victims of the 250th mass shooting in the United States. And we also cannot forget that we are still at the epicenter of the national heroin epidemic. Yet, despite this, I am encouraged by the power of God and the resolve of the people of Dayton. The prophet Jeremiah (29:7) told God’s people to “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” We pray for our city and, as our city overcomes these tragedies, so also do we pray for all those who call Dayton “home.”
Pray for our rhetoric to change.
Pray that people resist the temptation to use this tragedy to promote an inflexible narrative. Pray that everyone will resist the temptation to be loud or to be manipulated by the echo-chamber of their favorite cable news channel or social media analytics. We have a great privilege that allows us dialog, debate and call for action. We also have a solemn responsibility to respect those impacted and not use this season of mourning as a time of ridicule. Pray that we will have compassion to go along with our passion.
Proverbs 15:1-2 states, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.” Perhaps this is never more relevant than it is now.
Everyone is processing this in their own unique way. Some through tears, others through talking and others through anger. Paul tells the Romans (12:15) that we are to “weep with those who weep.” Empathy begins with understanding. Empathy can begin by simply asking someone how they are feeling and then simply listening.
Trillia Newbell writes, “When your friend is weeping it’s hard to say, “I don’t know. I don’t understand.” We want to know. We want to bring comfort, but in our attempt to “fix it” we can forget that there’s a real person in deep sorrow. Your friend, coworker, or relative is not a faucet to be fixed-they are flesh and blood to be loved. Those moments when you’re anxiously trying to find the perfect words are often the best moments to humbly embrace your weakness and lack of knowledge.”
We need to create space where it is safe for those impacted to cry, question, recount and even say some messy things as they attempt to explain something that has no explanation. I don’t always know when it is best to offer wisdom, but I am certain it is not before those hurting have been given a chance to express themselves. (It should be noted that a great number of the Psalms are written by God’s people who were suffering the pain of injustice.) It is not spiritually immature to express hurt, pain and a desire to see justice administered.
In Luke 13:1-5, Jesus addressed two tragedies that impacted the people of God. In the first account, the Governor Pilate put to death a group of Jewish worshippers while they were offering sacrifices so that the blood of the victims and the blood of the sacrifices were mingled together. Leon Morris writes, “It is difficult to see what could justify an execution at such a moment.” Secondly, Jesus talks about a tower in Siloam that fell, killing eighteen people that were near the structure. One calamity was an act of terror, the other was an act of physics. While others try to assign moral blame, Jesus refuses to blame the victims. They were simply present at the wrong time. Jesus warns his listeners to not judge victims, who were no worse than the other residents of the city that did not suffer. Jesus then tells them to evaluate their own lives amidst the tragedy. We cannot always prevent something from happening to us. But we can examine our own hearts to see if we need to be reconciled to God and one another.
We can’t get out of our own way. One of the promises of the Enlightenment was that if we would reject the concept of God along with the advances in education and technology, we would bring an end to warfare and nationalistic aggression. However, the 20th Century turned out the be the bloodiest century in the history of mankind with major world wars, conflicts, genocide, and global injustice. Unfortunately, educational and technological advancements simply made humankind more efficient at inflicting evil upon others. The digital world promised to end ignorance by making information available to everyone and to cure loneliness by connecting people throughout the world. Yet, despite all these advances, we as humans seem to be more ignorant, more tribal, less connected to others and loneliness is described as epidemic. We can’t seem to get over ourselves.
The resurrection of Jesus promises that there will be a day when, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore…” (Revelation 21:4)
Believers grieve in a unique way. We grieve, but we grieve with hope. (1 Thessalonians 4:13) We grieve because we have lost loved ones in this life — not because we’ve lost hope in the next!
The certainly of the next life gives us hope in this life. Therefore, there is always #hopeindayton and we will always be #DaytonStrong.
Photo credit: “Dayton, Ohio” by Ayrcan is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0