Our homes are joyless this week as we absorb the Baptist church massacre in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Grieving these losses within our numbed selves gets harder and harder. Three of the worst massacres in US history have happened in the last two years. We just hold our breath waiting for the next shooting to occur. The 2015 South Carolina Sunday School massacre still digs hard within my ribs.
The Scriptures enjoin us, “weeping may endure for the night, but in the morning cometh joy.” But what comfort can these families find? Time heals all wounds? It sounds pretty cold right now, doesn’t it? We weep, we pray, and then taste the tears running down our cheeks. And they are bitter tears as they recur and recur.
My sadness gives rise to indignation. As of 1 January 2016, Texas churches can ban openly carried guns in church only if they post large signs in two languages. Did you know that? Texas churches must minister in an environment where the presumed and preferred path to peace, safety and security is the barrel of a gun.
We forget that for Christianity’s first 313 years, the church was wholly non-violent in the way of Christ’s cross. It was only as Constantine co-opted our faith as his Empire’s preferred religion that Christ’s church employed violence. I defy anyone to find a recorded episode where the early church sanctioned violence to achieve peace and security. Refusal of violence was an essential part of our Christian way. It still is. Christians suffer and die for what we believe in; we do not kill for it.
Theologian Stanley Hauerwas, a proud Texan, says that if the church prefers the way of violence over Jesus’ non-violence, he’ll have to accept it. But at least the Texas churches might have the decency and respect to remove the crosses from their chancels and hang weaponry there to own where they truly place their trust.
Some claim if that Texas church were more heavily armed, the massacre would have been prevented. I don’t believe that makes a lick of sense with everyone’s back turned to the entry of the shooter. Let’s face it, we are vulnerable during worship certainly in every way. Our vulnerability is a holy space that God enters. And without that vulnerability we will never hear God’s still small voice leading us.
My sadness turns to anger. But anger leads to blaming confrontations and more violence, right? So to be faithful, my anger must turn back to sorrow and grief. The Rev Paul Smith, our guest preacher in 2016, touches my heart as he writes:
“I share with you the agony of your grief, the anguish of your heart finds echo in my own. I know I cannot enter all you feel nor bear with you the burden of your pain. I can but offer what my love does give: the strength of caring, the warmth of one who seeks to understand the silent storm-swept barrenness of so great a loss. This I do in quiet ways, that on your lonely path you may not walk alone.”