Amazingly, I didn’t learn of the tragic shooting in that Aurora, CO, movie theater until Friday afternoon, nearly eighteen hours after the fact. I know it seems implausible in this era of instant and constant barrage by electronic media, but there are some days when I am able to avoid the pollution that comes from exposure to the news media until late in the day. Last Friday was one of those days.
Around 5:30 p.m., I was getting my haircut, and, of course, Aurora was the main topic of conversation in the shop. I nodded my head like I knew what everybody was talking about, but I didn’t get the details until I asked my wife, over dinner, just what was going on. I have been in a downward emotional spiral ever since.
I don’t know why this event has affected me so deeply. I didn’t know any of the victims. I’ve never been to Aurora. For some reason, however, I have been on the verge of tears every time it has come to my attention over the past four days. I was a guest in the home of some dear friends over the weekend, and I am so thankful that we didn’t have to focus on that horrible event unduly. I was there to preach and celebrate Holy Communion in their church, and for a variety of other reasons, that assignment was difficult enough. To have been forced to discuss the Aurora tragedy would have been almost debilitating.
I didn’t post anything on Facebook between Saturday morning and Monday afternoon. When I returned home from Pennsylvania, however, I decided to catch up with my FB friends. I was immediately stunned by what I read.
Post after post used the Aurora shootings either to illustrate the writer’s belief that America had squandered its unique position of favor with God and was suffering the consequences of apostasy and the judgment of God or to warn of the threat to democracy and freedom that would ensue if we allowed an event like this to serve as a catalyst to bring about stricter gun-control laws in the US.
I felt heartsick. Where was the compassion for the victims? Where was evidence that we knew of the New Testament instruction to “weep with those who weep”? Maybe that kind of post appeared on Saturday and Sunday, and I missed them. But even by Monday it still seemed far too soon to be using that horrific event in a doomsday sermon or to bolster a political argument.
Even now it is too soon to be analyzing and dissecting the factors which contributed to that event and the immeasurably heartbreaking consequences of it. It is still the time to mourn—for the victims and their families, for the city of Aurora, for a society where such behavior can occur without provocation or where the signs that it might be possible can escape the awareness of the community. The gunman was truly a sick and disturbed man. Was he, IS he, the embodiment of evil? I don’t know. I do know that what he did was evil, and the pain and anguish which he inflicted on so many people will remain with them the rest of their lives. That should bring us all to tears.
I was particularly disturbed by the post of one of my FB friends which exploited this painful situation to advocate for his opposition to gun-control. His post was a list of nations who had confiscated personal firearms and, shortly thereafter, had rounded up political dissidents, now unarmed and unable to defend themselves, and killed them all. I found the posting not only flawed logic but also callous, insensitive, and manipulative. All the more so since it was posted by one who purports to follow Jesus, the Prince of Peace.
At times like this, the sensibilities which were cultivated in me over a quarter-century of ministry among Anabaptists—concerns for peace, justice, loving compassion—come to the surface, and I am glad they are there. This is not a time for condemnatory preaching nor for political advocacy. This is a time to weep with those who weep and pray for those who have suffered, and are suffering, such pain and loss (including the family of the shooter).
There will be time to raise the question about why the American Christian community, which is so numerous and so vocal, is so singularly ineffective when it comes to being salt and light in the culture. For today, however, it is enough to pray and seek God’s face. Lord, have mercy.