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A Pastoral Letter Regarding the Sutherland Spring Mass Shooting

 

My Dear Siblings, Sisters, and Brothers,

I have been at a loss for words, not certain of how to adequately respond to the most recent mass shooting at a Baptist Church in Sutherland Spring, Texas where 26 people were killed — many of them children — and a number of others physically injured. I have been looking to the words of others — fellow clergy and faith leaders, my friends, and many of you. My thoughts and words are jumbled and scattered: heartbroken and horrified, furious and numb, scared and reactionary, while searching for the promise of hope and peace through God’s presence.
Amidst the inner chaos and grief, I have been repeating Paul’s counsel to the Romans: Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27, NRSV)
Right now, I feel weak, and I do not know how to pray. My own sighs are too deep for words. My sighs have become cries and groans and shouts and tears.
Another entirely preventable mass shooting committed by a white man who had access to lethal firepower. Another entirely preventable mass shooting committed by a white man who (apparently) had a known public record of domestic abuse and animal abuse. Another entirely preventable mass shooting committed by a white man whose behavior raised significant concerns among those who knew him.
These mass killings committed by white men are no longer unbelievable, even no longer surprising. What infuriates me is that so many citizens and legislators seem resigned to allow these mass killings at the hands of white men with absurd access to even-more-absurd firearms to be inevitable. Not only inevitable, but an acceptable collateral cost of a person’s right to own near-military grade semi-automatic weapons. It is just as I preached only one month ago following the mass shooting in Las Vegas, the United States has chosen to worship and make sacrifices to the “gun god” that demands and feeds off of our offerings of violence and fear.
But I refuse to worship the false gun god. I refuse to accept the culture and laws that make these preventable acts of terrorism and domestic violence inevitable. I reject the narrative that insists that the only solution is more guns. I reject the tired, archaic, pro-death argument that owning weapons of mass destruction is an inalienable right. I refuse to live my life in fear. I refuse to make a single sinful offering to the gun god. And I know many of you feel the same.
While the motive for this mass shooting appears to have been rooted in the evil of domestic violence and was not a random act, we cannot ignore that it happened in a church during a worship service.
A few of you have approached me about safety protocols at our own church. I have spoken with our Moderator Sam Icklan, and we have agreed that it is time to revisit the safety discussion from a few years ago. This will be a challenging discussion in a number of ways, and we must be cautious not to approach this from a reactionary standpoint, but from a place of realistic response and preparedness. We must also remain faithful to our commitment to proclaim the radical Gospel of Good News for those who are oppressed, persecuted, exploited, and marginalized. We are well aware that our witness to justice can make us vulnerable. We must also remember that our witness to justice is a central, defining characteristic of how our Beloved Community lives out the call to discipleship.
Friends, I will freely and without shame confess to you that I do not yet have an answer for how exactly we will address risk-reduction and safety protocols while ensuring that we are not reacting out of fear or diminishing our call to witness to justice (thereby sacrificing to the gun god). However, I do know that this is a conversation that is happening at a great number of churches and faith communities currently, and that there are models and resources that we can access.
I am calling upon the Holy Spirit to intercede, to guide us in prayer and discernment, to embolden us and remain present with us as we continue to seek understanding, resist evil, drive out fear and despair, and together help to create a just world. Another world is possible, and each one of us is called in our own way to bring it into being.
There is, of course, much more to say. And there is much, much more to hear. I ask you today to pause and breathe in — breathe in remembering that your breath is God’s breath, the Holy Spirit filling your lungs. Breathe in the Holy Spirit, and listen for a word from God. Breathe in again, and speak God’s word of hope over despair, love over fear, justice over violence, and peace over hatred.
Through all that happens around us and within us, may we commit ourselves to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.
Peace & Blessings,
Chris Mereschuk
Acting Pastor

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