Bishop John Tarrant's Response to the Texas Shooting

Some reflections on another mass killing

I began to write the below the day after the Las Vegas massacre, but then got interrupted and did not finish. Unfortunately, the lives of the families and friends killed have been permanently interrupted. Now five weeks later, an entire community is shattered by another mass shooting leaving 26 deaths and 20 others injured.

October 2, 2017 – “As we awoke to the news Monday morning that there was a mass shooting in Las Vegas my heart sank. The brokenness in our world at time seems insurmountable. Before I started writing my reaction to yet another mass killing, I looked at the faces of those killed in pictures from news sources.  They are women and men, young and old, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers; in other words, they are real people with real lives.

This is not just another human created tragedy to pass through the news cycle, none of these tragedies are. This event is about actual lives lost and lives shattered. Thousands have been affected by the heartbreak of bodies broken and lives lost as family and friends grieve this senseless act.  I offer prayers that God will give strength and comfort to the friends and families of those injured and killed. I offer prayers of healing for those recovering from physical and emotional wounds as a result of this massacre.”

Just five weeks have passed and now another mass killing, this time at a church. And of course, we have the mass killings last week in New York City. How do we make sense out of these tragedies? For the Texas murders as well as the Las Vegas killings we don’t have an immigration policy or ISIS to blame and it certainly is not appropriate to blame God for our continual sinfulness. We can blame mental illness, the Air Force, or some other yet-to-be-determined factor, but in recent years it is not “politically correct” to blame the American love affair with guns. We know “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”

Between 1968 and 1973 over 50,000 people died on the highways in America. Almost as many people were dying each year on our roads as were killed in the eight years of the Vietnam War. We know that “cars don’t kill people, people kill people” and yet we were able to have dialogue on what we could do so that “people would kill less people with cars.”  In 1968 the first seat belt legislation was passed. Since then other efforts have been made to make drivers of cars less deadly.  Today 15,000 less people die each year as a result of car accidents even though we drive thousands more miles every year.

There is the temptation to suggest that we need to arm more ‘good’ people and they will protect us from the ‘bad’ people. We can put armed guards in front of our schools, churches, government buildings, Wal-Marts, hospitals, Post Offices, and on and on. We can believe that, if we just have enough guns out there we will all be safer. We can become a militaristic state or we can learn the lessons of our ancestors who actually enacted “common sense” gun restrictions. When you entered Dodge City in 1879 you were greeted with a large sign that said, “The Carrying of Firearms Strictly Prohibited.” They seemed to understand the risk of both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ people toting around guns indiscriminately.

I’m not suggesting any specific action, but I do believe it is time for open conversation about our cultural attitude toward firearms that is not dominated by the extremes of either side of the issue.

The Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, said the people of Sutherland Springs told him they want to “work together for love to overcome evil, and to do that by working with God.” This may actually be a prophet word. How do we as Christians, Jesus followers, work toward making our world a holier place? What actions is Jesus calling out of these tragedies? This Jesus, who said, “blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God” (Matt. 5:9) and “all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matt. 26:52). What is his word to us?

It is a challenge to be a follower of Jesus; it has always been a challenge. It is difficult to give up parts of our self, our opinions, our worldview, and even at times our politics for the sake of God’s vision for the world.  Jesus reminds his disciples, “those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matt 16:25).

What are we being called to lose for the sake of finding life? I do not have the answers, but I believe it is Godly work to have the courage to wrestle with the questions.

I continue to pray for the victims of these tragedies. I pray for those who might be moved, for whatever reason, to create more innocent victims on another day, and I pray for our Nation and the world that we might work more diligently toward respecting the dignity of every human being.

God’s peace be with you,

+John
Bishop