Local church leaders respond to school shootings: Pastors address questions like, 'Why does God keep letting this happen?' and 'Where is God in all of this?'
The nation is still reeling after suffering yet another mass school shooting, this time on Valentine's Day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Seventeen people were killed, and another 16 injured.
As a media firestorm swirls around the hot-button issues of gun control, mental illness and the epidemic of violence in the U.S., quieter but equally important conversations are happening among people of faith, as believers wrestle with the role of religion and God in tragedies like this.
Religious memes and posts are being widely shared on social media in the wake of the Florida attack, and some difficult questions are being asked in church circles — questions like, "Why does God keep letting this happen?," and "Where is God in all of this?"
We at the Tribune think these questions are worth addressing, not only in church or online, but also in this newspaper, a community-based public platform. We reached out to 10 local church leaders, asking them to share their perspectives on the issue. Following are the four responses we received, printed in the order in which we received them.
I wish I had words and even powerful spiritual insights to share regarding the recent tragedy in Florida. As a pastor, I know that's an expectation that people have of me, and yet when these types of things happen, the truth is that I'm almost always at a loss for them. When tragedy strikes, I ask all the same questions everyone else does.
I'm not okay with all the brokenness, heartache and tragedy that are just a normal part of life this side of Heaven. I hate that it hurts so bad. I wish that life wasn't so hard, and I wish that I didn't live in a world where I even have to wonder if my kids are going to make it home from school alive.
But I believe that Jesus is who He says He is and I believe that He is the answer, and because that's true I long for more of Him and deeply desire him to move in our generation and our day.
This dark world needs the light of Christ. It sounds cliché and maybe even insensitive, but if Jesus is who He says He is, then He is more than capable of breaking through and overcoming the darkness. We need Him to break into our lives and into our world, and we need to come together and cry out for Him to move.
2 Chronicles 7:14 says, "...if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land."
What if we did that? What if we stopped fussing about all the ridiculous realities of our world and just got on our knees together and begged God to move? What if we actually prayed that His kingdom would come and His will would be done on Earth as it is in Heaven?
God is true to His word. It's time to do more than just read it. It's time to do it. Let's rally for a move of God in our day.
Lead Pastor Troy Easton
Lakes Area Vineyard Church
How long, O Lord...
This is a recurring prayer in the Psalms. It's become my prayer, too.
The epidemic of gun violence is becoming the new normal in this country. How many people have to die before we realize that this is the most dangerous nation on earth in terms of gun deaths? Politicians across this country brag about their NRA ratings, and my proposal is that we make that the very reason to vote against them. In reality, only a small minority of us turn out to vote in off-year elections. I see November 2018 as an opportunity for this nation to make a dramatic, positive change.
If this Congress won't take action to protect our children and communities from gun violence, it's up to us, "we the people," to elect a Congress that will. It's up to us to elect candidates who have the courage to stand up to the gun lobby and at least try to make our communities safer. Our children deserve better than the status quo. We all do.
Ninety-five percent of U.S. citizens support requiring a background check for all gun sales; 94 percent of gun owners in this country support background checks for all gun sales; 93 people are killed by guns in this country every day. In the 2016 presidential election, the NRA invested more than $31 million to get Donald Trump elected and Hillary Clinton defeated. The top five U.S. Senators with the most contributions from the NRA are John McCain at $7.74 million, Richard Burr at $6.69 million, Roy Blunt at $4.55 million, Thom Tillis at $4.42 million and Cory Gardner at $3.88 million. This is all public information, and I encourage all of us, as responsible citizens, to look further into who is paying to get our elected officials elected.
Starting with the Dickey Amendment, the NRA has successfully blocked gun violence research since 1996. Our present reality is that the NRA holds a death grip on congressional action. This is worse than terrorism. It's fatalism.
In the aftermath of Parkland I heard Paul Ryan say it was too soon to take any action because we don't have the facts. He said this straight-faced, knowing Congress continues to prohibit itself from gathering any facts. This is absurd. With all due respect, Mr. Speaker, as one of the survivors of Parkland phrased it, it's not too soon. It's too late. Sadly, tragically, absurdity has become the new normal in our nation's Capitol.
We would be better served by politicians who are not owned by the NRA and who can do more than offer to pray about us being the most gun-violent nation on earth. Perhaps we could treat guns like cars: Require gun education classes (driver's education), pass a test (driver's test), get a license (driver's license), license the weapon (we license cars and know when drivers violate the law), and tax every gun (we tax cars to pay for roads — we could tax guns to pay for safety).
Why, if we have common sense traffic laws, can't we have common sense gun laws? Think about how much safer vehicles are today because of the investigations that happen when someone is killed in a car accident. Our cars have become so much safer over the years because of the effective work of the NHTSA. We can only imagine how much safer guns would be if gun deaths were investigated similar to the way automobile deaths are investigated. We can only imagine, literally, because Congress continues to prohibit pursuing any such investigations. Why?
There are two answers: Too many of our elected leaders have sold their souls to the NRA, and we haven't demanded more than their thoughts and prayers for our votes.
You might disagree. You might think ending the ban on gun violence research is a bad idea. I respect that. What ideas do you have to stop the madness of our children being "hunted" in our schools? That's how one survivor of Parkland described the massacre there — being "hunted" by the killer. Whatever ideas you have, please share them. Quickly, and with urgency. I hope we can agree, at the very minimum, that what happened in Parkland is not normal.
How long, O Lord...
Reverend Mark Kuether
The Congregational United Church of Christ
First of all, I and our congregation at Lake Eunice Evangelical Free Church would like to say that our thoughts and prayers go out to those of Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida who sent their children to school that day on Feb. 14th and now have had to either bury their children or sit by their hospital beds and watch their pain and suffering and wait for them to recover from their injuries.
We know that the emotional trauma this has caused these families will last for years to come. It is a terrible tragedy, one that should never have had to happen. No words can soften the hurt and pain they must feel, and such tragedies leave many unanswered questions that we may never know the answer to.
I understand the anger high school students have expressed across the country and their demand for action that this should never happen again, after all, why should our schools be war zones? However, taking away the rights of responsible gun owners who are just as appalled that this sort of thing should happen, really doesn't adequately address the real issue at hand. Our federal and state governments can only enact so much legislation. The Oklahoma City bomber used fertilizer and diesel fuel. ISIS sympathizers have run people over with trucks. Violence happens in so many ways and forms.
What is the solution to the problem of increased violence in America, and literally around the world? As a pastor, I see that the only answer is a deep, abiding relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ. The question has been asked, "Where is God in all of this?" He is standing where He has always been. He stood at the cross where He offered His own life as a sacrifice for our sins, He loves us so much that He has paid in full the penalty of sin Himself on our behalf, which is death and eternal judgment, and He stands with open arms to receive all who would come to Him seeking forgiveness and desiring a deep, abiding, and transformational relationship with Him. He offers grace and mercy to all who will ask for it. He will not trample on our free will, however He has done everything He can do to make eternal life, forgiveness of sins, and a relationship with Him open for all who will come. It is that transformation of a person's heart that is the answer to what is wrong in our country. Nothing more needs to be done other than to open our hands and receive His love, grace, and mercy He extends to all of us.
Since 1962 and 1963, when two landmark Supreme Court decisions made it unconstitutional for public prayer and bible reading in our public schools, we have steadily seen a decrease in morality and an increase in violence, and many teachers have expressed to me that in the last few years there has been a general increase in disrespect for authority among the students in our schools. The bible tells us, if we sow the wind, we will reap the whirlwind. We are seeing the consequences of our society that has been pushing God away rather than seeking Him out. How many battles in the courts have we seen over just the display of Ten Commandments that have stood for decades in front of courthouses?
Here is the good news for us in one verse and you can put your name in the blank, John 3:16, "For God so loved, (Put Your Name Here), that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever would believe in Him shall not perish, but will have everlasting life." He gave His life for each of us."
No doubt many will scoff and mock at what I've written in this article. The Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 1:18, "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God and the wisdom of God." I sincerely desire that each person who reads this message will sincerely reflect on where they will spend eternity. Those students didn't know when they went to school that eternity would come for them that day. Our prayer for you is that you will receive Jesus' offer of forgiveness of sins and eternal life for yourselves. He truly is the only answer to the world's problems.
Pastor Dale Robins
Lake Eunice Evangelical Free Church
These can be two very difficult and challenging questions to answer, however for those who believe in the Bible as God's word to man, we can begin to understand where the hate, the anger and vengeance can come from.
According to the Bible, God created man for the purpose to worship him. In the structure of our creation, God also gave us the ability of free will, as evidenced by Adam and Eve, who freely chose to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, even after being told not to. This choice that was made in the beginning, was the first choice of disobedience, which caused separation from God (this being the definition of sin).
Prior to that choice by Adam and Eve, God had given man the authority of ruling the earth, but when they sinned they handed that authority over to the fallen angel known as Lucifer (Satan); this permitted Satan to release sickness, disease, hatred and even death into the earth.
The Bible tells us that we are born into a fallen world, and for that reason we are born into a world with all the evil that exists. Just as we live in this world, we are also given an opportunity to be saved from it by believing in Jesus. When this supernatural event takes place in a person's life, they begin to realize that our life is not of this world, but it is of an eternal world with God.
So, in answer to the questions, bad things happen because sin is in the world. This is a straightforward answer to a straightforward question. The follow-up question, "Where is God in all of this?" also has a straightforward answer: He is everywhere, waiting for his people to choose to worship him.
The first choice is are we willing to choose to follow Christ in order to obtain our eternal freedom; the second choice is are we willing to stand for Christ, even to the death? Satan and his demons are going to do everything in their power to denounce God and gain the ears of anyone who will listen and follow, so we should not be surprised by evil things happening, but instead we should be responding by asking, what are Christians going to do about it?
Many of us reading this article couldn't be in Florida to stop the shooting, but many of us can share of the amazing saving grace of Jesus Christ to all those around, and in turn it may bring joy to a heart that is filled with hate and anger and stop the next potential violent act. You never know who's life you may change for the better by telling them about Christ.
If people want to know more about answering these questions, seek out a pastor and ask the tough questions.
Senior Pastor Trevor Janich